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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" has always been, to me anyway, about letting go in the face of the inevitable.  It's actually about facing up to the inability to kick an addiction, which given that this is one of Layne Staley's last public appearances is pretty fucked up.

It's not a great performance, but it's good enough, and it's a great song to begin with, so that will carry it through.

I remember requesting "Milk It" at a Roller Rink once because I was that kid who wanted to hear his own weird bullshit music even if it wasn't situationally appropriate.  (For the record, dude played it.)  That was the last time I've been roller skating, coincidentally.

The song might be Nirvana's most brutal.  It's a goddam sledgehammer, mostly because holy shit Dave Grohl.  There are a few guitar...ad-libs I guess you'd call them, during the quiet parts, and they feel sarcastic.  They feel like someone laughing at the apocalypse, but the only two people in the room are the killer and his victim.  The whole thing is unhinged and all you can really do is stand back and gasp at its ferocity.

"Around The Bend" closes "No Code" out on a chill note.  It's incredibly laid back, but sunny in its disposition.  It's basically three go-rounds of the same verse with different lyrics and a suspension that leaves you hanging at the end "Gone off Around the Bend..." and that's how the album ends.  Throw in a slide guitar twinge or two and some piano chords and you've got the whole thing.  It's relaxing.

"My Wave" gets your fist pumping.  It had its share of overplay at the time, but it seems to have become more of a rarity post 1995, which is a shame, because this song is all kinds of solid.  And it does it with all kinds of weird time shifts and odd time signatures, yet they never lose that sense of groove.  (What's crazier is that Kim Thayill claims they didn't plan any of that shit out in advance.)

This was a really tough choice (made tougher because I reviewed "Pennyroyal Tea" by mistake; that's tomorrow), but I've got to go with my gut.  Bit of an upset, really:

"Milk It": 4
"My Wave": 3
"Nutshell" (Unplugged): 2
"Around The Bend": 1

TOTALS:

Pearl Jam: 138
Alice In Chains: 133
Soundgarden: 115
Nirvana: 115

Once more, Nirvana and Soundgarden are tied!  And Alice In Chains has quietly crept within striking distance of Pearl Jam!  Come back tomorrow, when Pearl Jam will "Yield", though they ain't about to stop (and neither are we!).

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