First thing…this album is long. I’m a great believer on albums going no longer than 40 minutes and this one clocks in at a near 70. Given that there are only 12 tracks that means long songs and looking at the times the shortest comes in at 4:23. Further inspection shows all but two song come in at over the 5 minutes mark. This usually can be an indication that theirs a fair amount of filler in each track.
Musically these songs bounce between AIC grinder, slower darker sound scapes and the oddly restrained melodic tune. Some songs could have used a judicious amount of editing and trimmed the fat and been the better for it. I have a motto…just because you can fit 80 minutes of music on a CD doesn’t mean you should put that much there.
It highlights the one glaring weakness this album has, the lack of that one pummelling track that they used to put on each album. That short shot of rage like “Them Bones” or “We Die Young” that grabs you in and then lets the rest of the album eat at your sub-conscious. The lack of the one tight, explosive number fails to give the album the edge in dynamic range.
In fact, this may be one of AIC’s most labyrinthine sets as these songs will not reward casual listening. As I type this I’m sitting around spin #20 and listening to “Phantom Limb” and I don’t think I have a grasp of what this tack is trying to achieve. The opening riff gives hope to some real bombast and right up to around 3:30 in I’m still there but this song keeps going…and going…and going. At 5:30 we hit the outro and that last another 1:30. By the end I’ve lost most interest the first half had, lost to the repetitive riffing and aimless song structure.
The next track “Hung On A Hook” is much the same again following in the meandering closing of Limb and not really picking up in any way. If they had just cut these two songs out completely the whole album would have been strong and a lot less bogged down.
Don’t get me wrong; there are many highlights on here like the gorgeous “Scalpel” that uses Cantrell’s vocals and Du Vall’s harmonies to full effect. It’s also notable for pulling back on the grinding riffs that fill this set in favour of some honest chords and lushly layered guitar work. Another bright spot is “Voices” with it’s almost soaring chorus and what I believe were actual major chords instead of the dirge-y minor ones they mainly stick too.
The title track is highly effective and the vocal blend on this track is pure AIC. I defy anyone to listen to this track and tell me that the band is missing Staley. This is one occasion where I wont complain about the song length as the intricate guitar work carry this one effectively enough. Ditto track four “Stone” which boosts the riff of the album and the most straight forward drumming which makes it the most propulsive of the songs here.
Yes, the drumming.
Playing this album first time out I felt there was a certain absence of heft to the overall sound. When I compared it to Black Gives Way To Blue it’s obvious that the drum sound here hurts the overall production. The snare is lost in the guitar crunch and the kick drum has no impact at all. One of the big hallmarks of any Alice In Chains release is the great drum sound and it is missing here. This especially hurts in the longer songs as Sean Kinney seemed reluctant to just play a beat and seemed intent to curb any really flow of the song. For that too work you need drums that hit you in the gut. These don’t.
02. Pretty Done
05. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
06. Lab Monkey
07. Low Ceiling
08. Breath On A Window
10. Phantom Limb
11. Hung On A Hook