Writer: Jarrett Crepeau
Photo courtesy of Loudwire / Columbia Records
September 29, 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Alice and Chains’ Dirt, their second, arguably most influential album released during the start of the grunge movement in 1992. This album defined the group’s signature heavy guitars and Layne Staley’s droning, but powerful, vocals. Alice In Chains is one of the bands more rooted in metal rather than punk, as opposed to their counterparts like Nirvana. Either way, Layne and the rest of the group channel the dirty Seattle Sound of the early 90’s in their own unique way; which, is why they stand the test of time.
Getting into the album itself, Dirt features some of the band’s most well-known, and greatest tracks throughout their discography. Deep cuts like “Them Bones,” “Angry Chair,” and “Rooster” are just a few that stand out as classics, and some of my all time favorites. Every song on this album tells a story. From a lost love or drug abuse to the horrors of war, this album is raw emotion from start to finish.
However, this album did come under quite a bit of fire during the time for its songs detailing drug use, more specifically, Layne’s struggle with heroin. Songs like “Junkhead” and “Sickman” tackle this issue head on, telling the story of someone (popularly believed to be Layne himself) enjoying and being inspired by heroin; and, dealing with the agony of addiction and withdrawal. In interviews, Staley has said that he’s never wanted to encourage using, but share his story, and the music was his way of healing and battling his demons. Dirt is just one album that tackles the overlooked heroin use that plagued the 90’s grunge scene.
By now if you’re not sold on Dirt let me shed some light on the story behind the iconic fifth single off the album, “Rooster”. Written by the band’s guitarist and backing vocalist it tells the story of his father and his time as a soldier during the Vietnam War. As a soldier, his father had the nickname, “The Rooster,” and the song sheds a light on the horror of war and how it changes people; especially, soldiers. In a 1992 interview, regarding a question about how his father felt about the song
“He’s only seen us play once, and I played this song for him when we were in this club opening for Iggy Pop. I’ll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff. Of course, I was never in Vietnam and he won’t talk about it, but when I wrote this it felt right…like these were things he might have felt or thought. And I remember when we played it he was back by the soundboard and I could see him. He was back there with his big gray Stetson and his cowboy boots — he’s a total Oklahoma man — and at the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time. This song means alot to me. A lot.” (Genius Lyrics)
Overall, I feel very strongly about this album and this band. They have influenced me as an artist, time and time again, and I can’t thank Layne Staley enough for everything he did with Alice in Chains. After his death in 2002 from a heroin overdose, there hasn’t been anything quite like him. That creative spark was gone, but he hasn’t been forgotten. After Alice in Chains reformed with new singer, William DuVall, I was very optimistic. With two successful albums under their belt, and a third one on the way (scheduled for 2018), I am excited to see the future of this band. So, on Dirt’s 25th anniversary, I wanted to draw some attention back to this classic. Rest easy, Layne, we miss you.