Alice in Chains are, to me, the least immediately appealing of the big Seattle grunge bands. I think that’s because they have the least catchy songs – though Cantrell is a good songwriter he is not necessarily a writer of particularly catchy songs. Though I do wonder how much of my experience of this band would be different if I had just been exposed to them at the same time as the other three.
Cantrell is a fundamentally different songwriter than the main songwriters of the bands these guys are lumped in with. There’s more blues, obviously, but there’s also less of the bombast and hooks. I don’t know who he grew up admiring as songwriters but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same people as Cobain or Cornell or whomever you want to attribute the plurality of the songwriting to in early Pearl Jam (Gossard? Ament?). That’s a good thing in the sense that it helps give this band its distinct sound but it’s also harder to get into these songs on first listen, unless you really love the aesthetic.
The aesthetic is very much what you might imagine as somewhere between grunge and stoner metal. Much more so than Soundgarden, these guys are happy to be loud and (relatively) slow. (There’s way less of a clear punk influence.) Stayley’s vocals are a big part of the aesthetic of course – with a different singer we might mistake this band for something other than grunge.
That’s not entirely true, the guitars are pretty grungey. But the point I’m trying to make is that the pronounced influence of punk visible in much of grunge is less visible in this band and one wonders if they had emerged in another city if they would have been lumped in with this movement or a different one (i.e. stoner rock).
That’s what I get from it: it’s a grungey stoner rock record with lyrics (and vocals?) which fit more in the grunge world than the stoner rock world. It’s a record that I think I’ll have to listen to a few more times before I really appreciate it as, like other AIC albums I’ve heard, it’s not quite grabbing me like I expected it would.