I have been debating of doing a review of their records for sometime and thought a best of might be necessary but I'm not usually a fan of reviewing such things, though not above it (ATDI...This Station is Non Operational) In the end I decided on Dirt since it's kind of their essential record and the most consistent one they released in many ways. It also was major commercial breakthrough and cornerstone album of the 90's influencing many bands including Godsmack (who take their name from a song title here.)
Dirt was the group's followup to their 1990 debut Facelift which had Man in the Box as a hit but this album expanded the band's palette musically and crystallized many of their lyrical themes. Dirt was recorded in 1992 with a much darker tone than it's predecessor and that is pretty consistent throughout the record. Dirt was recorded amongst much reported drug use with all band members dealing with alcohol abuse, copious smoking of pot and guitarist Jerry Cantrell's depression meds and most notoriously Staley's heroin abuse, including supposed open shooting up in front of his bandmates and the production staff. The talk of drug use is sensationalism to be sure but in this case it did in deed fuel the music and lyrics of the record as much of the album deals with themes of addiction and depression and drugs as a coping mechanism for depression.
Dirt opens with Them Bones which is a chugging 7/8 time riff that is Alice in Chains in a punk/meets metal mood. Dam that River follows the chugging riff brought up by Cantrell, the rhythm sections keeps consistently pounding along. Rain When I Die is a more subdued darker moving song. It really features more texture to the guitar and Staley and Cantrell's unusual use of strong emphasis on harmony really made AIC unique for a metal/grunge band. It works quite nicely here. Down in a Hole is featured next, this was a radio hit for the band along with a handful of others. It is also more subdued, though probably my least favorite of the radio hits off the album. It's still a nice song overall.
Sickman kicks off with an unusual drum pattern and features a more punk/metal attack by the band. It has some off kilter slowed down parts which gives the song a drunken kind of dynamic which is interesting. Rooster is next and it's Cantell's tribute to his father who served as an Air Force pilot during Vietnam. The song is actually a survivor story and is sort of a bright spot in the album lyrically, though it's touching on dark mental territory. The guitar is more textured here than perhaps on any other song on the record, very layered. Also the song uses a quiet/loud grunge dynamic quite well. It has military march drumming at times, heavy riffs and of course Staley/Cantrell's unique harmonies. Staley's controlled but pained delivery on this song is a testament to his expressive singing and tunefulness even while screaming. Junkhead moves along in the signature AIC sound of heavy riffs and pounding drums and bass. It's an open discussion of drugs from Staley, who hoped his drug descriptions would discourage the group's fans to refrain. Though according to Staley it often had the inverse effect when fans came up to him and in his own words gave him the thumbs up that they were high at that moment, something which Staley says he felt regret for the rest of his days. Dirt follows with an almost middle eastern vibe on the song, it's a searing riff and the harmonies here are strong as well.
Godsmack follows continuing the themes of Staley's addiction, not my favorite on the album but it sets in consistently with the rest of the record. Iron Gland is a short piece that parody's Black Sabbath's Iron Man it features Slayer's Tom Araya on vocals. It's a lighthearted metal moment, that shows the band with a sense of humor. Hate to Feel follows up with start stop dynamic that shows the emphasis on harmony in a metal context. It was written entirely by Staley as was the next song. Angry Chair is another of the album's five hits. (Them Bones, Would, Rooster and Down in a Hole) Angry Chair ranks as one of the best songs the group ever recorded and one of the best songs of the 90's. It still gets regular airplay and it another description of the horrors of heroin addiction. A very choppy riff, that with a backbeat is very hypnotic and Cantrell delivers a very frantic solo which is quite awesome. A very cool song I recommend. Would closes the record with a very cool bassline driving the whole song. the guitar is very minimalist and the drums are restrained as are the vocals of which Jerry Cantrell takes lead on the verses, with Staley providing harmony which is quite eerie in someways. Then the chorus explodes with Staley's anguished wail guiding the song. It's a fitting melodic closer to an album that will stand probably as AIC's masterpiece. They had all the right elements, melodic songwriting, intense lyrical content, tight rhythms however off kilter at times. A guitarist who played with texture and could solo melodically and could sing harmony as well. Of course Layne Staley's lead vocals are a final all essential element, his lyrics are pretty dark and honest and his voices encapsulates the mood pretty perfectly, it's pained and expressive and tuneful almost soulful if that term can used and this record really showcases what a talent he had as a musician and writer, the album is a testament to the talent AIC had with him and as testament to one the most fruitful times in all of rock music. A very good record I recommend.