Friday, October 16, 2009

Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue (2009)


I didn’t think we would ever see another album from Alice in Chains after the death of singer Layne Staley.  It has been fourteen long years since the band’s 1995 self titled album.

I must admit that I had some reservations before listening to Black Gives Way to Blue.  Lets face it, Layne Staley left some pretty big shoes to fill.  Is Alice in Chains new singer William DuVall up to the challenge?

DuVall’s voice, mixed with the back up vocals of Jerry Cantrell gives Alice in Chains close to the same sound that helped the band sell millions of albums in the nineties. The big problem is DuVall’s voice is often hidden behind Cantrell’s voice, and the heavy guitars.  He isn’t really given a chance to shine as Alice in Chains new voice.

“Check My Brain” is a doom laden grunge masterpiece that only AIC could make work.  The guitars are tuned down, so that that the whole key of the song sounds utterly creepy, yet cool. The vocals on this song are perfect.  This sounds like classic Alice in Chains.

“Last of My Kind” looses a little bit of the doominess, but is still heavy as hell. This song requires multiple listens to fully appreciate.

“Your Decision” is an acoustic guitar  based track. This is the first song where DuVall’s voice is allowed to shine without the layers of guitar and heavy bass.  It sounds great and ought to be a single for Alice in Chains.

“A Looking In View” is the longest track on this album, but this moody mid-tempo number might be too long for its own good.  This song kind of plods along never really offers the listener a climax.  It is seven minutes of sludgey rock that I could have lived without.

“When the Sun Rose Again” is another acoustic track with some odd percussion thrown in for good measure.  This song doesn’t work for me either.

At this point in the record, I was hoping to stumble upon a hit worthy tune from AIC.  Hopefully somewhere on this disc is a monster song that I could not live without. I wouldn’t call it a monster track, but “Lesson Learned” is more like the AIC of old.  A cool heavy tune.

“Take Her Out” is another heavy mid tempo number that resembles the classic AIC sound.

The closing and title track “Black Gives Way to Blue”  is a tribute to Layne Staley.  The piano on this song is played by none other than Elton John. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a very slow and short tune, but is also quite amazing.  It is a very cool tune that honors Layne Staley well.

Does Black Gives Way To Blue live up to the Alice in Chains legacy?  No, I don’t think it is even close. The vocals are great. The guitar work is great.  So where does the problem lie?

The overall pace of the album is pretty slow, and the songs don’t stick with you. Once upon a time, the band could write some pretty cool grungy rockers with lyrics that were ultimately catchy and memorable. There just aren’t enough of these on this record to make me want to play it a whole bunch.  Yes there are songs that I like on this disc, but even with repeated listens something appears to be missing.  I am glad Alice in Chains is back, but Black Gives Way To Blue is ultimately disappointing.

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