The early 90’s were the time when I was figuring out exactly what musical styles spoke to me and what drew my interest. It was also a time when music was…well, music, unlike much of today’s offerings. Gone were the days of hair and speed metal as well as electronic and synth-based bands, replaced by grunge, the beginnings of nu-metal, an evolving and growing hip-hop/rap genre as well as the popularization of contemporary country music. It was the end of an era that had grown into stagnation and the beginning of a fresh, new time that brought many of my (now) favorite artists to the forefront of the music scene.
One of these bands is Alice In Chains, whose 1992 release ‘Dirt’, is considered by many to be one of those ‘timeless’ albums that appears over and over in Top (insert number here) albums of (insert however long here). So, do I agree? Does ‘Dirt’ deserve all of these spots and this recognition? Find out after the jump.
Let me get that out of the way right now: The answer is yes. ‘Dirt’ is one of those albums that defines a musical era. Tackling subjects such as war, love, hatred and obsession, ‘Dirt’ musically and lyrically tackled these subjects with a poignancy and immediacy that was refreshingly honest and original.
Kicking off with ‘Them Bones’, ‘Dirt’ wasted no time at all in kicking your ass. Huge guitars and Sean Kinney’s criminally under appreciated drum work, coupled with Layne’s iconic and instantly recognizable scream, caused me one hell of a scare the first time I hit ‘play’. That was NOT how I was expecting the album to start but man did it pull me in and make me want to hear where they were going.
Production-wise, ‘Dirt’ sounds fabulous yet dated. There’s nothing really wrong with the production but it has that unmistakable 90’s feel to it. The album is also very diverse in terms of dynamics. Some songs are fast and heavy while others are slower and softer. The guitar goes through multiple effects as well as several tone changes, ensuring that the album doesn’t become tonally boring.
The album itself has an almost hypnotic flow to it. ‘Dirt’ is one of those albums that you can put on, hit ‘play’ and then not touch a thing. There are passages of sublime haunting beauty coupled with brilliant vocal harmonies between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell. There are also songs that are intense, heavy, and, probably one of the reasons for AIC’s success, extremely catchy. The album ends on one of my favorite tracks from the 90’s, ‘Would?’, a track whose bass line is immediately recognizable.
The Final Word: Let me put it to you very simply: If you don’t own this album, go and get it. For those of you who do own a copy, pop it on and hearken back to a time when Bill Clinton just won the presidential election, Mortal Kombat hit arcades and Bram Stoker’s Dracula hit theaters.