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THE GRUNGE MATCH - 104

Match 104:

Alice In Chains "All Secrets Known" (2009)
Nirvana "Even In His Youth" (Live In The Studio, 1989)
Pearl Jam "Inside Job" (2006)
Soundgarden "Worse Dreams" (2012)

Alice In Chains played the last show of their first run on July 3, 1996.  From there on, the band was in limbo, with the tease of a comeback in 1999 when two new songs were included on their boxed set, but nothing materialized before the untimely demise of Layne Staley in 2002.  The band played a one-off reunion gig in 2005 with former Damageplan singer Pat Lachman (that dude needs a new band; underrated) to benefit survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, then made an appearance for a 2006 VH1 special dedicated to Heart.  Phil Anselmo sang a song with them, Ann Wilson sang a song with them, and the singer from some band called Comes With The Fall sang "Rooster" with them.  The band had actually opened for Jerry Cantrell on his 2002 tour, and their rhythm section had played with Cantrell during his 2001 shows, so they had a rapport.  The singer's name was William DuVall, and in 2008, Alice In Chains announced they were recording new material with DuVall as their new frontman.

Like everyone else, I was HELLA skeptical.  Layne Staley had one of the most unique voices in the history of rock.  No one is going to fill those shoes.  But then I saw live footage of the band (I don't remember which song) and holy shit this guy nailed it.  Not only that, but he somehow brought his own swagger to it, singing the song "how it's supposed to sound", but making it his own.

Needless to say, reforming a band with a new singer and releasing your first album in fourteen years comes with a ton of baggage, especially given Alice In Chains's dark history.  So it's fitting the first line of "All Secrets Known" is "Hope...a new beginning".  It's technically in a major key, but with sinister note choices to underscore it.  The lyrics are almost too on the nose, with the bridge proclaiming "There's no going back to the place we started from", but it's exactly what needed to be said, so why code it with metaphor?

The song itself is slow to the point of molasses.  It's not exciting, but it's not meant to be; it's a depiction of a creature stirring after a coma, a being coming to life, realizing it's still alive, and cracking a wry smile.  There's not much to it: no solo, no real change, and at almost five minutes it sounds like it would overstay its welcome, but somehow the atmosphere it generates carries the day.

"Even In His Youth" comes from the same studio session as "Token Eastern Song".  I actually like this version of it better than the one on "Hormoaning"; the lo-fi-ness adds something the more professional recording lacked.  For one, I can understand the lyrics on this one better.  It also has more attitude, and that's something that needed to be injected back into this review process.

"Inside Job" is Pearl Jam's second longest song, clocking in at 7:08.  It starts with a haunting C Minor to E chord progression with guitar swells leading to piano and bass filling out the body.  When Vedder comes in with the vocal, I'm instantly reminded of "Indifference" from "Vs.".  The drums finally show up about halfway through, and really any sooner would've ruined it.  The back half reminds me more of "Given To Fly" instrumentally, owing to the chord choices.  But then this lead lick comes in and makes it something more, followed by a bridge that kicks the song into anthemic before the solo tops it.  It's an absolute crime I only listened to this song once eight years ago, because this song is better than anything else the band has done in the last 20 years.  Maybe even better than anything on "Vitalogy".

Whew!  After the history lesson at the beginning and the tour de force "Inside Job" hit me with, we come to Soundgarden's entry for today.  The verses are reminiscent of "Bela Legosi's Dead" by Bauhaus, but with some Soundgarden-y touches.  The sense of foreboding they pull off is quite impressive, especially from the admirable but largely toothless "King Animal".  The chorus is a little too bright in comparison, but it's still pretty quality.  The lyrics have something to be desired, but they don't make me cringe or anything.  In a different matchup, I would've had no qualms about awarding this a four.  Instead:

"Inside Job": 4
"Worse Dreams": 3
"Even In His Youth" (Live In The Studio, 1989): 2
"All Secrets Known": 1

TOTALS:

Soundgarden: 283
Alice In Chains: 267
Pearl Jam: 258
Nirvana: 232

Tough luck, AIC.  "All Secrets Known" is a decent song; I did not expect it to get bodied like that, but that's how this game is played.  Let's see if they can do better tomorrow with their big comeback single.  Also, we say hello to Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" and goodbye to all Pearl Jam albums I've actually listened to.  Stay tuned!

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