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THE GRUNGE MATCH - 055

Match 055:

Alice In Chains "Angry Chair" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Wishlist" (1998)
Soundgarden "Black Hole Sun" (1994)

For anyone buying into the rumor that Layne Staley had gangrene in his fingers, you can stop it now, because he plays guitar on this song.  In fact, he takes the glove off his fret hand.  This version of the song has an interesting difference to it, as the original relied a lot on the sustain of electric guitars to fill in the spaces and create a tapestry, whereas the acoustic version creates a bunch of pauses that weren't present in the original.  Gone also is the wah and the scream of Cantrell's attack, forcing him to play a different solo.  It's faithful to the original, but because of the constraints of acoustic vs. electric guitar, it makes the song unique.

"Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip" is a hidden track on non-U.…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 054

Match 054:

Alice In Chains "Down In A Hole" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "All Apologies" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Given To Fly" (1998)
Soundgarden "Head Down" (1994)

The vocal lines are a diffrerent rhythm than I'm used to (and by the sound of it, different than they were used to as well).  Other than that, it's pretty much "Down In A Hole" with no electric guitars.  For a more in depth analysis, go read Match 021.

And so, here we are.  A song that has gained WAY more importance in light of the events that ensued not long after its release.  For the record, I've always really liked this song, but for about three years after Cobain's suicide, overplay made it impossible to listen to.  That, and because it's kind of retroactively become a farewell, a coda, an "Of COURSE that's what it means!  It should have been so OBVIOUS!"  The lyrics contain certain words like "buried", the title has been ret-conned int…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 053

Match 053:

Alice In Chains "Sludge Factory" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "tourette's" (1993)
Pearl Jam "No Way" (1998)
Soundgarden "Superunknown" (1994)

Layne seems more awake for this one.  He even cracks a few jokes before the song starts.  It's the first inkling that this band is alive playing in a live setting.  It's also the first song on this "Unplugged" album that wasn't originally an acoustic number.  They manage to keep the swagger if not the heaviness of the original.  The real interesting aspect is on the album version, Staley's voice is so layered and effected up that it sounds post-human.  This is one guy singing the thing.  And he goes for the high harmony line on the chorus, which makes for a shaky, cracking delivery, but despite being jarring isn't necessarily the worst.

"tourette's" is random on purpose.  It's short, it's noisy...and that's it.  It's 90 seconds of anarchy…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 052

Match 052:

Alice In Chains "No Excuses" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Faithful" (1998)
Soundgarden "Mailman" (1994)

A serviceable version of the same song from "Jar Of Flies", but without the power of Layne Staley's voice or the wail of Cantrell's lead work.  It's still "No Excuses" though, so it's got something going for it, but it's a less good copy of the exact same song.

I always thought "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" was about spies when I was a kid.  Y'know, like a "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" would be a piece of equipment for intercepting radio signals clandestinely without generating interference.  But I see now that the song is a clever double-entendre, being that "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" is an industry term for a song that sells records and gets radio play.  The crazy part is how the title still works both ways.  &quo…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 051

Match 051:

Alice In Chains "Brother" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Pennyroyal Tea" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Brain Of J." (1998)
Soundgarden "Fell On Black Days" (1994)

Layne's shakiness is a lot more evident trying to replicate Nancy Wilson's vocal from the original recording.  The verses are kind of interesting, but the chorus doesn't quite work.  It's close, but...not quite.  Cantrell is decent, which considering the food poisoning is amazing.  But again, this is a song that was acoustic to begin with being given the Unplugged treatment, substituting a withered husk that used to be Layne for Nancy Wilson from 1992.  He manages to get it together for the last chorus, but it's still not the best.

"Pennyroyal Tea" has always been kind of weak to me (weak pennyroyal tea?).  The lyrics are kind of nonsensical, the riffs are uncompelling, and parts of it make me realize this is the song that spawned half of Bush's first two albu…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 050

Match 050:

Alice In Chains "Nutshell" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Milk It" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Around The Bend" (1996)
Soundgarden "My Wave" (1994)

You can tell right away that something's not quite right.  Layne Staley is shaky as hell.  He stays in key the whole time, but he sounds super nervous, like his voice will stop working any second.  He's also wearing sunglasses in a dark room and gloves.  There were rumors it was to hide gangrene, and though they were false, the dude was projecting this aura that made you believe it could be true.  To add to the lack of energy, Jerry Cantrell had food poisoning.  A couple of songs from this "Unplugged" session took multiple takes, and it was about three hours to tape 70 minutes worth of material.  Add to that the funeral vibe of the set (a little too much like a darker version of Nirvana's not two years earlier), and you get a real uncomfortable setting.

The song "Nutshell" h…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 049

Match 049:

Alice In Chains "Over Now" (1995)
Nirvana "Very Ape" (1993)
Pearl Jam "I'm Open" (1996)
Soundgarden "Let Me Drown" (1994)

The song "Over Now" is eerily prescient: It starts with an ancient sounding recording of "Taps".  This is not just the last song on the last Alice In Chains album with Layne Staley (and the last song on the last proper album Staley would make period), it came out at the end of grunge's popularity.  By the time "No Code" came out nine months later, it really was all over.  It's somehow the perfect tombstone for not just Alice In Chains but the genre with which they were most closely associated.

Musically, the song captures the vibe of a wake, in a way.  The verses are jaunty, if subdued, representing the recollection of looking back on the closing of a book and remembering the good times with the bad.  The chorus of "We'll pay our debt sometime" is morbid, being th…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 048

Match 048:

Alice In Chains "Frogs" (1995)
Nirvana "Dumb" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Mankind" (1996)
Soundgarden "She's A Politician" (1992)

"Frogs" is not as bad as I remember now that I take another listen.  It is super long, clocking in at 8:18, and it's the uninteresting kind of slow so that doesn't help its case, but the chorus saves it (though at the five and a half minute mark, the song devolves into the mumbling, free association jammy bullshit I remember it being).  If you cut the last three minutes, it would be perfectly fine, but NOOOO.  Instead it's a wash.

"Dumb" is one of my personal favorites from "In Utero".  It doesn't aspire to be anything greater, but it doesn't underachieve in spite of its lack of intentions.  It's got a cool cello thing going on, it's pretty chill without being a dirge, the lyrics are kind of...well, dumb but since the song is called "Dumb", it fits. …

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 047

Match 047:

Alice In Chains "Nothin' Song" (1995)
Nirvana "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Present Tense" (1996)
Soundgarden "Stray Cat Blues" (1992)

In a band with a history replete with questionable lyrics, "Nothin' Song" is their absolute nadir.  This shit SUCKS.  (And tomorrow's song is bottom five too.)  The music ain't much better either.

Frances Farmer was an actress who was committed in the late 1940's in her hometown of Seattle and spent years in an institution.  Many salacious rumors floated around, that she was a paranoid schizophrenic, that she was an alcoholic, that she was hooked on dope, that she'd had a lobotomy while locked up...The truth is hazy, but Kurt Cobain empathized with her plight after reading her biography in high school.  Courtney Love even wore one of her dresses at her and Kurt's wedding.  What does this have to do with the song?  Not much.  It'…

R.I.P. Chris Cornell

The Grunge Match is suspended indefinitely.

I don't know when it will resume.  This hits way too close to home for way too many reasons.

As far as writing goes, I just did Match 112 Tuesday night.  I have no interest in going back through and making this a love letter to the departed, nor bashing him for tearing our hearts out.  I have no idea when I'll be able to even listen to Soundgarden again, and when I do, it won't be the fucking same so there's no way I can give any kind of objective rating.  Chris Cornell was the soul of that band, the thing that took sludge with a few acrobatic musical flourishes and made it into the hellfire slinging, metal rending monster that it needed to be.

So yeah.  This one hurts.  The man is dead.  The music remains, but is changed forever.  His friends, family and fans are suffering incalculable grief.  There's not much more to say, so silence seems like the best option.

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 046

Match 046:

Alice In Chains "So Close" (1995)
Nirvana "Rape Me" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Lukin'" (1996)
Soundgarden "Girl U Want" (1992)

"So Close" is the definition of a late album track from the 90's.  It's a short, punchy and utterly forgettable morsel of hard rock.  It's got energy to it, but it leads to nothing.  That's not to say it's bad, but hands up if you remember this song.  That's what I thought; not a lot of you.

"Rape Me" was okay when I first heard it, insufferable after Cobain died because of the overplay, even worse once I realized it was just a rip off of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (which I was sick of before Cobain died), and pretty ugly to listen to now because holy shit I don't want to hear someone shout about rape a bunch to the tune of "Smells Like Teen Spirit".  Some might say it's not 100% fair to write this song off as trash because Cobain was trying to writ…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 045

Match 045:

Alice In Chains "God Am" (1995)
Nirvana "Heart-Shaped Box" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Red Mosquito" (1996)
Soundgarden "Into The Void (Sealth)" (1991)

"God Am" doesn't exactly inspire confidence by starting with the lighting of a bong.  It does add to the wobbly-legged atmosphere, with a slanted beat and slight psychedelia through a grunge lens.  The lyrics are of the less embarrassing variety for the back half of this album in spite of the clumsy attempt at trying to use "goddam" as "God Am", but hey, for someone who took a sick bong rip before this got started, that's probably the best they'll do.

"Heart-Shaped Box" is a song I've heard a million times, but I've been able to avoid for a decent number of years now.  Last time I heard it, I think I was playing Guitar Hero II.  The lyrics are the kind of gibberish that fooled Gavin Rosdale into thinking he could be a poet and their deliver…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 044

Match 044:

Alice In Chains "Shame In You" (1995)
Nirvana "Scentless Apprentice" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Habit" (1996)
Soundgarden "New Damage" (1991)

"Shame In You" is the song I threw on a mixtape for my car the week Layne Staley died.  It feels like he's singing from the perspective of someone speaking from the afterlife and it seems like he's his own angel trying to console himself after he's passed on.  "Yeah, that trip was fucked up, I did some pretty fucked up selfish shit and I could've been better, but it was what it was.  I never found 'someday' to get everything straight, so all I can do is think about what I got right, which when you think about it was quite a bit.  So hey, not a total loss, this life thing, right?  Better luck next time.  Yes, you get a next time.  Matter cannot be destroyed nor created; it just becomes something else."  Peace go with you, brother.

Wow, that got heavy.  Speaking of w…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 043

Match 043:

Alice In Chains "Again" (1995)
Nirvana "Serve The Servants" (1993)
Pearl Jam "Off He Goes" (1996)
Soundgarden "Holy Water" (1991)

"Again" does not have good lyrics.  Most of the album it comes from does not.  They've never been Alice In Chains's strong suit, but especially since Layne Staley utilized a lot of free association and in his own words "couldn't even remember a lot of" them after they were recorded.  He wanted the whole thing to be loose.  He got his wish.  Point is, the lyrics may suck but the song does not.  "Again", if you can ignore the babbling meh, is a doomy sounding song with a driving beat, which is something there needs to be more of, frankly.  Most doomy sounding songs just plod; this one jackhammers.  And of course, we get close to peak Staley again, so baller points +2, yo.

"Serve The Servants" is the opening salvo in Nirvana's follow-up and farewell rolled in…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 042

Match 042:

Alice In Chains "Head Creeps" (1995)
Nirvana "Aneurysm" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Smile" (1996)
Soundgarden "Drawing Flies" (1991)

I've always really liked "Head Creeps".  I think because it's the song on "Alice In Chains" that reminds me the most of...well, Alice In Chains.  Specifically "Dirt", but most of this album feels like a loose approximation of the band that was.  Unfortunately, the band didn't quite realize that they were already a "was" by this point.  An album not written to be an Alice In Chains record winds up being their self-titled album and the last one they do with Layne Staley.  Kinda fucked up.  But "Head Creeps" is the spirit of that "was", returning to the realm of "is" for six and a half unflinching minutes.  The riff is simple but pummeling and the drums, though repetitive, add great atmosphere.

"Aneurysm" is a song that didn't…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 041

Match 041:

Alice In Chains "Heaven Beside You" (1995)
Nirvana "Big Long Now" (1992)
Pearl Jam "In My Tree" (1996)
Soundgarden "Mind Riot" (1991)

"Heaven Beside You" is the second single from Alice In Chains's self-titled album, and it's the one that most tips you off that this was originally intended to be Jerry Cantrell's debut solo effort.  Layne Staley came through after they'd written most of it, and his presence is least felt on this song.  It's reminiscent of "Jar Of Flies" but a lot more cravenly mainstream.  This was made to be a radio hit, and BOY was it.  It's not a bad song per se; it has a nice mid-section and outro, taking a dark turn; the chorus isn't the worst and the second...chorus(?) is the best part of the song, really.  But those lyrics are why I've never taken Jerry Cantrell as seriously as I wanted to. 

"Big Long Now" is a droney, drifty, aimless number that stumble…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 040

Match 040:

Alice In Chains "Sludge Factory" (1995)
Nirvana "Aero Zeppelin" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Who You Are" (1996)
Soundgarden "Room A Thousand Years Wide" (1991)

The beginning of "Sludge Factory" is the best part of the song.  I'm not saying it's all downhill from there, but that opening is just tits.  And that riff, despite only the chorus to break it up and only being three notes NEVER gets old.  This song is over seven minutes.  It never gets old.  It still cuts just as hard the hundreth time they hit that three note barrage as the first.  Then the ending kinda goes to some bullshit jam thing which sort of undercuts what went before it but not too badly.

"Aero Zeppelin" is one of my favorite songs on "Incesticide".  It's got vocals you can sort of understand for a change, but the delivery is so easy-going you don't need to care what's being said.  It's got some cool riffs, it's got solid ba…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 039

Match 039:

Alice In Chains "Brush Away" (1995)
Nirvana "Hairspray Queen" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Hail, Hail" (1996)
Soundgarden "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" (1991)

"Brush Away" is my favorite song on the self-titled Alice In Chains album.  It's out of left field, it's got a cool clean riff at the beginning which gives it three levels of force; the verses are breezy yet solid with a crunching chorus.  The lyrics aren't insultingly bad, so that helps.  The backwards solo is cool too.  But I think what I like the most is it's under four minutes.  It's actually brisk by AIC standards.

"Hairspray Queen" has always been the worst Nirvana song, as far as I can tell.  "Rape Me" is my least favorite, but "Hairspray Queen" is straight up awful in a way that has to be on purpose.  So actually, the more I think about it, I like it better than "Rape Me".  It still really really sucks.

"H…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 038

Match 038:

Alice In Chains "Grind" (1995)
Nirvana "Mexican Seafood" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Sometimes" (1996)
Soundgarden "Somewhere" (1991)

As a "comeback" song, "Grind" could use a little work.  Not planning the funeral before the body dies fits Alice In Chains's shtick, but looking back it's painfully ironic.  One of the guys singing that lyric has been dead for fifteen years, and this wound up being their last album for about the same amount of time.  But shtick also seems to fit this song.  It kind of feels like a too-perfect distillation of the band's archetypes with a catchy, sun-shiny chorus to add to the feeling that this was...calculated.  And given this came out in late '95, we'd already seen a bunch of grunge bands try to cash in/out by then.  I didn't even buy this album until my folks signed me up for Columbia House in 1998 and I got 12 CDs for a penny.  Something about it put me off and I never re…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 037

Match 037:

Alice In Chains "Swing On This" (1994)
Nirvana "Downer" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me (aka 'Stupid Mop')" (1994)
Soundgarden "Face Pollution" (1991)

"Swing On This" is as close to electric or metal as "Jar Of Flies" gets with acoustic, swingy verses paired with a grittier sounding, wah laden choruses and Layne Staley doing his spooky vocal harmony thing over the top.  Alice In Chains may not have been the greatest songwriters every time, but holy balls did they know how to create atmosphere. 

"Downer" is a hard-charging "fuck you" of a song.  It's not even two minutes, but it doesn't need to be any longer to knock your ass down.  It's one of their hardest songs for sure, and one of their most straight to the point.  (Astute listeners will note that this is the same exact version tacked onto the Geffen records re-release of "Bleach", which is wh…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 036

Match 036:

Alice In Chains "Don't Follow" (1994)
Nirvana "Beeswax" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Immortality" (1994)
Soundgarden "Jesus Christ Pose" (1991)

It's kind of amazing how pastoral the first two thirds of "Don't Follow" sound.  This is some playing a guitar in an autumnal wheat field type shit.  Then a harmonica comes in and paints a little bluesier picture, but at its core the song is a long, deep breath.  It may be resignation, with lyrics like "Pass me down that bottle," but then with about two minutes to go, Layne Staley takes over from Jerry Cantrell and it's like it's time to get out of the field and hitchhike back to the city and deal with real life again.

It's at this point that I realize how painfully average Nirvana really were.  For most of their discography, they coast by on being naturally charismatic and knowing power chords.  They don't try very hard, and most of the time it's fine.  &q…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 035

Match 035:

Alice In Chains "Whale & Wasp" (1994)
Nirvana "(New Wave) Polly" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Aye Davanita" (1994)
Soundgarden "Slaves & Bulldozers" (1991)

"Whale & Wasp" is a string based instrumental, with minimal bass, swelling cellos, an acoustic rhythm and two harmonizing electric leads.  It's a nice close your eyes and vibe song without being repetitive.  The leads have Cantrell's signature lyrical nature to them.

"(New Wave) Polly" is a hard charging punk version of the song "Polly" from "Nevermind".  It's brisk, almost but not quite to the point of outpacing itself.  Its frenetic energy, especially in contrast to its acoustic counterpart, will get your blood moving.

"Aye Davanita", in spite of being a near three minute filler track on its face, has grown on me over the years.  The only lyrics are the title, repeated incessantly, and the music is the same jammed on riff…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 034

Match 034:

Alice In Chains "No Excuses" (1994)
Nirvana "Son Of A Gun" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Better Man" (1994)
Soundgarden "Outshined" (1991)

MAN there's some stiff competition.  "No Excuses" is one of Alice In Chains's biggest hits, and...just listen to it!  It's catchy as fuck!  The lyrics are so-so, but the vocal harmony makes up for any flaw you can find in it.  The contrast of having Staley bust in with the chorus after Cantrell sings the verses is pure icing.  The lead work's damn tasty too.

"Son Of A Gun", decent little tune it is, has such a tough hill to climb today.  It'll get your head bobbing and put a smile on your face.  I can kind of hear an analog tape flaw in the recording during the chorus when the cymbals get crazy.  It's subtle, but you can really tell this was AAD.

For all the FUCKING times I've heard this song (hell, in 1995 alone)...I still love "Better Man".  I don't k…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 033

Match 033:

Alice In Chains "I Stay Away" (1994)
Nirvana "Molly's Lips" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Satan's Bed" (1994)
Soundgarden "Rusty Cage" (1991)

"I Stay Away" is a cool song, interesting and myriad with it's moving pieces, but parts of it have always kind of seemed...off.  Not bad, just...off.  Like the riffs during the pre-chorus: At once interesting in its bizarre, unexpected nature and repellent with its jangly unkemptitude.  But holy shit the strings in the chorus just seal the deal.  And as usual, Layne Staley's delivery's on fuckin' POINT.

"Molly's Lips" is a Vaseline's cover.  It has a bouncy, fun nature that you wouldn't normally associate with Nirvana, but they manage to at least feign sincerity if not outright display it.  Nothin' fancy, just a straight ahead, two minute fuzz tone beach ball to the brain.  (Though the lyric "She'll take me anywhere as long as I stay clean&quo…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 032

Match 032:

Alice In Chains "Nutshell" (1994)
Nirvana "Turnaround" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Bugs" (1994)
Soundgarden "Big Dumb Sex" (1989)

"Nutshell" also happens to be one of my all-time favorite Alice In Chains songs.  Come to think of it, "Jar Of Flies" is their most solid release.  They weren't dealing with the struggle to find their sound, they weren't trying to wash off a post-80's taint, nor did they have a broken handed drummer like they did on "Facelift".  This EP also isn't saddled with weaker deep cuts like "Dirt" was.  And unlike their self-titled album, they still had a direction, more so here than ever.  Again, Layne Staley fucking kills it, the solo is awesome, I've always identified with the lyrics...it's really well crafted.  A perfect generation of atmosphere: you feel the loneliness and the cold chill of staring down inevitability, and you want to cry along with the wail that…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 031

Match 031:

Alice In Chains "Rotten Apple" (1994)
Nirvana "Been A Son" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Corduroy" (1994)
Soundgarden "Uncovered" (1989)

"Rotten Apple" set the tone of "Jar Of Flies" perfectly.  It's primarily an acoustic EP heavy on atmosphere and harmony.  Just with the line "Hey ah nah nah" Layne Staley evokes magic on the listener.  He casts the proper spell.  This is not the same darkness of "Dirt"; this is much more real.  It gets to the heart of the matter, looks it right in the eye and assesses: We are in trouble.  Whereas "Dirt" has incredibly nihilistic themes, it has a layer of bravado that comes with distorted guitars and drug use.  There are moments where it cuts the shit and gets real, even when being aggressive, but "Jar Of Flies" is the band's collective strife lain bare.  And "Rotten Apple" is the perfect overture for this experience.

"Been A Son"…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 030

Match 030:

Alice In Chains "Would?" (1992)
Nirvana "Stain" (1992)
Pearl Jam "Pry, To" (1994)
Soundgarden "No Wrong No Right" (1989)

I knew "Would?" would probably be taking today's matchup going in, seeing as it's my favorite Alice In Chains song.  This goddam song is perfect.  It starts with a great, slinking bass line (R.I.P. Mike Starr) and the rest of the song floats in flawlessly around it, coalescing in the powerful chorus.  The solo is amazing...honestly, I'd give this a 5 if I thought it was ethical.  (Then again, this is all arbitrary...)  Of course, Staley and Cantrell's two-headed harmonic hydra leads the thing on to victory.  If you've never heard this song, do yourself a favor and listen to it with no other sensory input.  Let it take you.

"Stain" is pretty average, but it's got a decent groove and doesn't stick around long enough to wear out its welcome.  Very straightforward and with jus…