Jar Of Flies

Alice In Chains

Columbia Records, 1994


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


For much of their far-too-short career, Alice In Chains seemed to always want to walk the thin line between heavy-hitting rock act and introspective acoustic musicians. Think about it: after each full length album the band did, they released something that had acoustics at the heart of it. Facelift spawned Sap; Alice In Chains spawned Unplugged. And, in 1994, Dirt spawned today's reviewed release, Jar Of Flies.

Granted, Layne Staley and crew weren't completely acoustic on this release, but it did represent a much different band than the one which had stomped on people's eardrums with songs like "Rooster" and "Them Bones" off Dirt. The first single off this seven-song release, "No Excuses" was the perfect track to suck people in. An incredibly infectious drum beat from Sean Kinney, solid bass work from Mike Inez (formerly of Ozzy Osbourne's band), catchy acoustic and electric guitar work from Jerry Cantrell and great harmonizing vocals from Staley and Cantrell all spelled one thing: hit song. This track truely earned its stripes.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And while I could have lived without the wah-wah heavy guitar work from Cantrell on it, "I Stay Away" is another song that showed how versatile Alice In Chains really were with their music. They weren't afraid to add string sections to their songs, simply because they worked so well with the material without compromising Alice In Chains's original vision of the music.

In a sense, this is what the whole beginning of alternative music was about: taking chances. Jar Of Flies features the band taking some surprising chances, many of which work. From the surprise inclusion of an instrumental ("Whale & Wasp") which allows the texture of the music to take over in place of the lyrics, to possibly the most beautiful song the band ever did in their career ("Don't Follow") , to even a swing-based number that occasionally segued into rock ("Swing On This"), Alice In Chains make some bold musical statements here, throwing caution to the wind.

Most of the time, it works on Jar Of Flies. And while it falls flat on the album's opening track "Rotten Apple," these missteps are thankfully few on this release. (The one remaining track I haven't talked about, "Nutshell," is a decent enough number, but nothing special to my ears.)

Complaints? Bet you can see this one coming... Jar Of Flies is so damn good, but it's so damn short. While this was meant to be a project for Alice In Chains to kind of "blow out the cobwebs" and have some fun in the studio, it also was an album that begged for more songs like this. While I enjoy the heavy side of Alice In Chains (I'm guaranteed to blow out a set of speakers every time "Man In The Box" is played in my car), it would have been interesting to hear how Alice In Chains would have taken this style of music had they, at the very least, made this into a full-length album.

Sadly, it looks like we shall not hear from Alice In Chains again, what with members like Cantrell doing the solo gig and Staley being the subject of numerous rumors concerning his drug use and health. While no one has officially declared it, it's time to face facts: Alice In Chains is dead. Fortunately for us, albums like Jar Of Flies exist to prove just how good this band was, and allows us to wonder what they would have done past the last two albums they had in them.

Editor's note: After this release ran, Alice In Chains released their box set Music Bank , which featured a couple of new songs. But until I see a new full-length studio album from these guys (and as of August 2000 there isn't one), I stand by my statement that Alice In Chains is dead.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.