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THE GRUNGE MATCH - 081

Match 081:

Alice In Chains "Sea Of Sorrow" (Demo) (1988)
Nirvana "Negative Creep" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Ghost" (2002)
Soundgarden "Never Named" (1996)

I actually like this version better than the "Facelift" one.  It's better produced than the overly-stylized Dave Jerden .  Sure, the 1990 one sounds more like an Alice In Chains song, but this kicks it up an extra notch the other one didn't have.  (It also helps that Sean Kinney wasn't tracking drums with a broken hand.)

This performance of "Negative Creep" was recorded on Halloween 1991 at the Paramount Theater in Seattle by Andy Wallace, and holy shit can you tell Wallace was in on this: This has SO much body to it.  It might be the best sounding recording on "Wishkah".  The song is already a sledgehammer so, the detuned, feedback laden, bass-soaked maelstrom we get here is better than the "Bleach" version.

"Ghost" is another sign post…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 080

Match 080:

Alice In Chains "Killing Yourself" (1988)
Nirvana "Milk It" (Live) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Cropduster" (2002)
Soundgarden "Burden In My Hand" (1996)

"Killing Yourself" is better than "I Can't Have You Blues", but it falls back below the line of "ready for prime time".  It sounds like a B-Side, but it's a decent B-Side.  It has some guts and Layne Staley is getting his "Come on, fuckers!  Make some noise!" frontman swagger on.  This whole demo is so unlike the rest of their catalogue in how rock and roll it is.

"Milk It" (Live) is one of only three (or possibly four) commercially released tracks by Nirvana that were recorded in the year 1994.  This one was on January 7th to be precise, emanating from the Seattle Center Arena.  This, being a three piece band trying to replicate the wall of brutality the original achieved, falls short of the "In Utero" version, but it does as good…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 079

Match 079:

Alice In Chains "Bleed The Freak" (Demo) (1988)
Nirvana "Heart-Shaped Box" (Live) (1993)
Pearl Jam "Love Boat Captain" (2002)
Soundgarden "Blow Up The Outside World" (1996)

"Bleed The Freak" from 1988 is more brisk than the original and lots more "eeeeee" instead of "eaaaaaayyy" in the pronunciations.  It makes it slightly less cool than the "Facelift" version, but it's actually quite close to it in production sound, though maybe a little more Ozzy Osbourne circa "No More Tears".  An interesting artifact, if nothing else.

Considering this is three months before their last live performance, this is a surprisingly lively version of a song that was never very lively to begin with.  It has pacing issues, which is unthinkable with Dave Grohl behind the kit, but even in spite of that, this is a solid performance of "Heart-Shaped Box", certainly far more solid than I expected coming…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 078

Match 078:

Alice In Chains "Social Parasite" (1988)
Nirvana "Scentless Apprentice" (Live) (1993)
Pearl Jam "Save You" (2002)
Soundgarden "Ty Cobb" (1996)

"Social Parasite" has an unassuming start.  It makes me think of Brother Cane or some shit.  It's pretty mid-90's alternative, which is impressive since it's from seven years before that.  The pre-chorus and chorus are honey to the ears of a long time listener of hard rock.  Damn, heroin ruined this band.  I mean, it made them fucking immortal millionaires too, but the vim and vigor they had at the beginning to go with the songwriting chops they got later?  Oh, what could've been...

This live version of "Scentless Apprentice" is a bit rushed and in person you hear how much Steve Albini added to this thing.  It's still kinda slammin', but it's about 70% of the "In Utero" one.  Then again, it's still "Scentless Apprentice", which…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 077

Match 077:

Alice In Chains "Whatcha Gonna Do" (1988)
Nirvana "Spank Thru" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Can't Keep" (2002)
Soundgarden "Dusty" (1996)

"Whatcha Gonna Do", along with the next four entries, is also from the pre "Facelift" demo in 1988.  It's still got a pseudo-Guns vibe, but it's way less basic, it's got more attitude, Sean Kinney don't give a FUCK on them drum fills, the pre-chorus takes a vicious turn...this is the best Alice In Chains song I've reviewed since at least "Jar Of Flies".  It does have a weird mid-section that goes all funk rock for no good reason, but the verses and chorus are so energetic, so biting and so...FUN you can't really deny it.  It benefits greatly from remaster, because there's no way it sounded this good as a demo.  In fact, as far as pure sound, this might be the best they've ever sounded.  It's definitely the best drum sound they've ever…

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED - Episode 095: Cool Shit, Vol. 1

As you may have noticed, I stopped doing shownotes for Expect The Unexpected a couple of weeks ago.  This is due to WXRW's Soundcloud archive being felled by a third copyright strike out of nowhere.  So now that shows like mine can't be saved on their account (because I play copyright protected music) and because my personal Soundcloud can only store three episodes at a time, there's no point in putting extensive (or even thin) commentary about episodes the public won't be able to listen to two weeks down the road.

But since I did not have time to tell the listeners what they were hearing this week on the show, I felt it only fair to list what I played here.  Also, I did some research and actually found out what some of these songs were after 15-16 years, so hey!  Not a total loss!

So what is Cool Shit?  Cool Shit started out as the name I gave to a series of burnt CD mixes of stuff I made with my dad's CD burner deck (MAN was that a piece of shit; so temperamental…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 076

Match 076:

Alice In Chains "I Can't Have You Blues" (1988)
Nirvana "Sliver" (Live) (1993)
Pearl Jam "Parting Ways" (2000)
Soundgarden "Zero Chance" (1996)

"I Can't Have You Blues" is from a pre "Facelift" demo.  I've never heard this song before, but yeah this has "local hard rock outfit" written all over it.  It's a bunch of kids that surely have attitude and even a bit of talent, but it's one of those songs that you write when you're just starting to write songs, especially in the lyrics department.  It screams cut-rate Guns N' Roses, which in 1988 was the hot new thing to be.  It might've even got them noticed at the time, or at least they thought it would.  To be fair, it's a reasonable enough facsimile to avoid displeasure to the listener, but it wound up as boxed set fodder for a reason.

This version of "Sliver" comes from a November 1993 performance at the 8,500 seat …

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 075

Match 075:

Alice In Chains "Get Born Again" (1999)
Nirvana "Lithium" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Soon Forget" (2000)
Soundgarden "Rhinosaur" (1996)

"Get Born Again" is the last single Alice In Chains released with Layne Staley.  The song is more "Dirt" than anything they've done since.  In fact, it's more accurate to say it's like a darker "What The Hell Have I?" from the Last Action Hero soundtrack.  At the time it felt like a tantalizing hint at a new beginning, but alas it was not to be.  The only real criticism of the song is the production feels a little flat, a little dimensionless, but other than that, this is a lost classic in the Alice In Chains oeuvre.

This version of "Lithium" sounds like it's on either a pop station or a shitty cassette tape, because it's in E# without quite making it to F.  As a result of playing it in such a high key, Cobain's vocals suffer.  Seriously, it…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 074

Match 074:

Jerry Cantrell "Cold Piece" (1998)
Nirvana "Been A Son" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Sleight Of Hand" (2000)
Soundgarden "Pretty Noose" (1996)

"Cold Piece" is the longest Jerry Cantrell composition on record, clocking in at 8:29.  It's much better than most of "Boggy Depot" while somehow not being super different.  It's got a shuffle groove that keeps things interesting, the chorus is just the right level of hard to mesh with the breezy groove of the verses, it's got horns via Fishbone and bass via Les Claypool, it's got clarinets and pianos & shit, and it earns its length by making a skeleton worth building on top of in the first place.  I don't even mind the lyrics because they're not central to the song.  It's just important that this has soul and you can bob your head and tap your feet to it.  And there's the ingredient we've been missing: soul.  Even a dour dirge can be great if…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 073

Match 073:

Jerry Cantrell "Between" (1998)
Nirvana "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Rival" (2000)
Soundgarden "She Likes Surprises" (1995)

I never liked this song, even when I thought "Boggy Depot" was okay.  It's got some of the worst lyrics Cantrell ever wrote, it's musically dull...well, maybe not as bad in that department as I remember it.  It's his attempt at writing a country song.  It's got some pretty nice lead work, it's got an okay chorus...but the verse about going to his ranch?  Never quite got over that.  At least it's more alive that 7/8 of this album, in spite of being a middle of the road country rock song.

And now "Smells Like Teen Spirit" gets the fairgrounds treatment.  It's popular enough at this point that the crowd recognizes it from the clean tone part, but not like going ballistic or anything.  It's also early enough in the run that Nirvana don't hate t…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 072

Match 072:

Jerry Cantrell "Hurt A Long Time" (1998)
Nirvana "Aneurysm" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Grievance" (2000)
Soundgarden "Cold Bitch" (1991)

Is there such a thing as a grunge hair metal ballad?  This might be the closest thing I can think of to that.  It's so SAPPY.  Also, the perfect place to end it would have been at the 3:45 mark.  (It's 5:42).  Might be my least favorite song Jerry Cantrell ever had a hand in writing.  Even if it came from a place of earnestness...it's still really lame.  And the thing is, it could have been saved.  The hook, such as it is, of "Oh, oh, It's a bad dream (I've got only time)" isn't bad.  It's just not the hook for a lighter-wavey major key song about writing a suicide note for your family.  The subject matter does not work with the levels of saccharine on display.

"Aneurysm" was the big single from "Wishkah", and this is actually the first version of t…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 071

Match 071:

Jerry Cantrell "Satisfy" (1998)
Nirvana "Drain You" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Of The Girl" (2000)
Soundgarden "Ruff Riff-Raff" (1994)

The beginning of "Satisfy" threatens an even lower frequency on the sad bastard band than "Breaks My Back" or the rest of "Boggy Depot", and the verses are indeed a slog.  The chorus is a bit tepid, but has some life to it and at least the song is under four minutes.  It may drag for the vast majority of its span, but at least it doesn't drag on.  God this song is boring.

They're playing "Drain You" in a key too high for Kurt Cobain to sing properly.  Other than that it's a passable yet forgettable rendition of the original.  A different energy, which can work to a performance's advantage, but the more polished album version is certainly better.  This was recorded at some fairground in California in a 3,500 seat theater mere days before they overthrew M…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 070

Match 070:

Jerry Cantrell "Keep The Light On" (1998)
Nirvana "School" (Live) (1991)
Pearl Jam "Insignificance" (2000)
Soundgarden "Bing Bing Goes To Church" (199?)

"Keep The Light On" is the only song with any fire since "Cut You In" from this album.  It's not remarkable, like at all, but it's still a sign of life in an otherwise DULL sea of forgettable.  It's a serviceable Alice In Chains knock off, and since the last few matches have been universally torporus, I'll take it.

"From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah" is not one single live performance but a collection of live tracks, so the dates and even personnel change from song to song.  This one came from November 1991, recorded in Amsterdam for television broadcast.  It's actually a more lively version of "School" than the "Bleach" version, and would hold its own pitted up against the original.  Pun intended: High marks.

"I…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 069

Match 069:

Jerry Cantrell "Devil By His Side" (1998)
Nirvana "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Thin Air" (2000)
Soundgarden "Ghostmotorfinger (aka 'Motorcycle Loop' (Short Version))" (1994)

"Devil By His Side" is exceedingly generic with the exception of the chorus, and that only lasts 10 seconds at a crack.  There's a reason no one remembers this song.

And now we come to the conclusion of "MTV Unplugged In New York", and really to the end of Nirvana.  Everything after this is posthumous collections of unreleased material, live albums and boxed sets.  And it ends with an honest to God dirge in "Where Did You Sleep Last Night": a folk song from the 1870's (originally titled "In The Pines") that Lead Belly made popular in the 1940's.  The painful yell that Cobain turns the last verse into is another "means more in retrospect" moment as it sounds like the…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 068

Match 068:

Jerry Cantrell "Jesus Hands" (1998)
Nirvana "All Apologies" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Nothing As It Seems" (2000)
Soundgarden "Like Suicide" (Acoustic Version) (1995)

"Jesus Hands" tells us right off the bat we're in for a morose matchup, repeating the same clean Eb arpeggio over and over with barely there vocal accompaniment.  The chorus is fine, but it sounds like cut rate Alice In Chains.  It really sounds like something scraped off the literal cutting room floor.  Then they go back to that incessant arpeggio, with drums this time.  It's not the worst song in the world, and it doesn't get on my nerves nearly as much as this description may make you think it does, but it's certainly nothing to write home about.

"All Apologies" revisits the same eerie, ret-conned to super important ground that we covered back in Matchup 054, but this time it's on an album released after Kurt Cobain's death …

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 067

Match 067:

Jerry Cantrell "Breaks My Back" (1998)
Nirvana "Lake Of Fire" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Light Years" (2000)
Soundgarden "Jerry Garcia's Finger" (1995)

I remember really liking "Breaks My Back", but listening to it now it sounds like a morose, boring genre experiment that doesn't go anywhere for seven minutes.  It's got cool leads but they're not even the focal point.  After the second chorus there's a change at least, which has some weird, dark sounding chords, but that lasts all of 30 seconds before collapsing back into the main snoozefest.  AND THEN THE WHOLE THING REPEATS.  There's no reason this should've been more than four and a half minutes.

"Lake Of Fire" is one of the big singles from this here "Unplugged" album.  The guitar licks on this song are really shit hot.  And Kurt Cobain tries his damndest to hit those high notes, managing to get a few of them.  Hippies made …

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 066

Match 066:

Jerry Cantrell "Settling Down" (1998)
Nirvana "Oh, Me" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Evacuation" (2000)
Soundgarden "Kyle Petty, Son Of Richard" (1995)

"Settling Down" evokes an embarrassing bit of nostalgia for me: The first time I heard it, I was trying to get over my first unrequited crush.  So the line "Youthful dreams you'd be my wife [...] If there never is again, you were the one" vibed with me down to my wannabe romantic core.  Ah, youth.

As a song, it's a different animal than most of the songs I've reviewed thusfar.  It's got a fretless bass and piano that do most of the heavy lifting.  I wasn't sure the guitars in the verses were even there until I paid attention.  It's kinda melodramatic, but if you're in the mood for more downtempo, orchestrated faire, this is pretty good.

"Oh Me" is another Meat Puppets song featuring the Meat Puppets.  Of the three they did on this s…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 065

Match 065:

Jerry Cantrell "My Song" (1998)
Nirvana "Plateau" (Unplugged) (1994)
 Pearl Jam "God's Dice"
Soundgarden "Exit Stonehenge" (1994)

"My Song" was the other ubiquitous single from "Boggy Depot".  It's more mellow, but still on the electric side.  That's one thing about this album: not much acoustic guitar.  Every other Alice In Chains album has notable doses of it, save for "Facelift".  "My Song" is a weird case for me because I heard the crap out of it for two years, got sick of it in spite of liking it a lot, and...never really went back to it.  This song really only has the one riff and the pre-chorus melody going for it.  Everything else is pretty underwhelming.  It's not horrible, but...eh, you'd think after all this time hearing the song again would bring...something.  But nah.  It's merely okay.

"Plateau" is the first of three songs on "Unplugged In New Yor…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 064

Match 064:

Jerry Cantrell "Cut You In" (1998)
Nirvana "Something In The Way" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Breakerfall" (2000)
Soundgarden "Birth Ritual" (1992)

When "Cut You In" first came out, I thought it was corny as shit.  I hated music with horns in it on principle (partly because of ska, partly because these instruments made of actual metal weren't metal enough).  It was a song largely about nothing or being lazy, using would-be buzzwords instead of being substantive.  But holy shit does that analysis miss the point.  It's supposed to be a toe-tapper.  It's meant to be catchy.  It's supposed to be fun, goddamit!  That was something I wasn't into musically in 1998; I was uber-serious with my rock/metal music.  So something like "Cut You In" took a year or so to wear me down into liking it.  It's got a groove, the verse drum pattern is unique, and like I said, it's fucking catchy.

On the other end…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 063

Match 063:

When compiling The Grunge Four Song Challenge Series, I ran into some obvious problems.  As far as studio albums go, Nirvana put out three, Alice In Chains has five, Soundgarden has seven (counting "Screaming Life/Fopp" as their first) and Pearl Jam has ten (no pun intended).  While Nirvana and Soundgarden have enough B-Side material to (technically) make up the difference, Alice In Chains fell a little short.  So today's match (and for the next 11 following), I have to bend the rules a bit.  (read: BIG CHEATS!!!)

I had to include "Boggy Depot".

Hear me out.  Yes, it's a Jerry Cantrell solo album, and yes, this is technically cheating, but:

1. Sean Kinney plays drums on the whole thing
2. Mike Inez plays bass on three songs

So using that as gauge, half of Alice In Chains is on all twelve tracks, and three quarters appeared on 25% of the album.  We'll get to every last non-repeated track from "Music Bank" and the entirety of their &q…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 062

Match 062:

Alice In Chains "The Killer Is Me" (1996)
Nirvana "Polly" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Push Me, Pull Me" (1998)
Soundgarden "Half" (1994)

"The Killer Is Me" was first released on "Alice In Chains Unplugged" and to my knowledge no studio version exists.  This is the first time I've ever heard the song, so this should be an interesting anthropological artifact if nothing else.

The chords are intentionally sour and off key, and I'm ambivalent about that.  It doesn't sound good, but at the same time it kind of works, so points for trying something original.  The lyrics are pretty banal, and the against-the-grain harmony they were going for with intentionally fucked up chords would have benefited from an electric guitar where the distortion might have made it sound cooler, but then again it really sounds like a song written to be played on an acoustic guitar...I'm not really sure what to make of it.  But I …

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 061

Match 061:

Alice In Chains "Over Now" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Dumb" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "In Hiding" (1998)
Soundgarden "4th Of July" (1994)

"Over Now" (Unplugged) is about the same as the original.  No major clams, no changes of note.

This version of "Dumb" is slower, and thus sounds a little dumber as a result.  Maybe it's Cobain laying into the sarcasm in his delivery a bit more, but eh.  Other than that, it's the same.

The only thing saving Pearl Jam from being Matchbox 20 at this point is they're not as clean.  They're also better songwriters, not nearly as douchey, have a little more teeth to their music, and have a drummer who knows groove...okay, maybe Matchbox 20 is a little too harsh a comparison.  But this song is bland and milquetoast, no matter how well it's constructed and how "eh, okay" the melody is.  It's got no raison d'etre, whether individually or in context wi…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 060

Match 060:

Alice In Chains "Frogs" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Pennyroyal Tea" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Low Light" (1998)
Soundgarden "Fresh Tendrils" (1994)

"Frogs" is another song which proves Alice In Chains would've been better off transforming some of their electric songs instead of resting on their acoustic laurels for this performance.  On the studio version, there's like four Layne Staley's singing in this unsettling arrangement, building to an impactful crescendo of distorted guitar playing a weird chord.  Here, with one voice singing a different melody and the guitar and drums severely downplayed, it makes for a unique experience; a cool twist on something.  It allows the material to be seen in a different light.  This is what this whole "Unplugged" album could have, and probably should have, been.

This version of "Pennyroyal Tea" was a solo performance, which I think was a smart move.  It mak…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 059

Match 059:

Alice In Chains "Would?" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "The Man Who Sold The World" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "MFC" (1998)
Soundgarden "Kickstand" (1994)

This version of "Would?" is more or less a simplified version of the original, played mostly the same but for some touches of restraint.  This is one of the only songs on "Alice In Chains Unplugged" that doesn't feel like a diminished version of the original song, in spite of not being all that different.

Chances are good the first time you heard "The Man Who Sold The World", it was this version and not the Bowie one from 1973.  Cobain cheats a little by using a distortion petal with his acoustic guitar for the main riff, but it really helps tie the song together.  The riff is an excellent means of conveying the alien nature of the character Bowie was playing in the movie "The Man Who Fell To Earth", being cold yet compelling at the same time, …

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 058

Match 058:

Alice In Chains "Heaven Beside You" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "[Red Dot]" (1998)
Soundgarden "The Day I Tried To Live" (1994)

Interesting to note, "Heaven Beside You" doesn't get as much crowd response as any other song so far.  In April of '96, I wouldn't blame them.  That song was ubiquitous at the time; I was sick to death of it.  This version is almost as good as the studio version, but not quite.

"Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam" was originally a Christian song adapted by The Vaselines for an alternative rock context.  This version features Krist Novoselic playing accordion and Dave Grohl playing bass while playing the kick and hi hat with his feet.  It's a loungy song that twists the original hymn to not care about Jesus's death ("Don't expect me to cry," etc.).  It's like a worse version of "D…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 057

Match 057:

Alice In Chains "Got Me Wrong" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "Come As You Are" (Unplugged) (1994)
Pearl Jam "Do The Evolution" (1998)
Soundgarden "Limo Wreck" (1994)

"Got Me Wrong" is another in a long line of "not as good as the original" acoustic numbers that pays lie to the inherent danger of booking a band with so many acoustic songs in their repertoire and expecting their performances to be transformative.  At this point, Alice In Chains could barely do the songs as is; they weren't about to try and make them different in interesting ways.  And this passable yet inferior version is the result.

"Come As You Are" at least has the benefit of having been an electric song first, and in a lower key to boot.  The changes are subtle, but it's enough to make it interesting to listen to.

"Do The Evolution" was the first time Pearl Jam released an official video for a song since "Jeremy" in…

THE GRUNGE MATCH - 056

Match 056:

Alice In Chains "Rooster" (Unplugged) (1996)
Nirvana "About A Girl (Unplugged)" (1994)
Pearl Jam "Pilate" (1998)
Soundgarden  "Spoonman" (1994)

Managing to make an already dirgelike song more boring while not being able to pull off the "woo"s at the beginning?  I'd say sign me up, but I don't wanna (but I have no choice cuz I've been drafted).

"About A Girl" on the other hand is well played, manages to add something to the song in spite of being the same as the original just acoustic (might have something to do with being tuned down half a step), and is the first time I'd ever heard the thing.  I didn't know "Bleach" existed until after this, and from the quip "This is off our first record; most people don't own it", neither did most people.  It's equal to the original is what I'm trying to say.

...listening to Pearl Jam is gonna get really boring from here on out, is…