Alice in Chains: Black Gives Way to Blue

RIYL: Soundgarden, Godsmack, Staind

In a sense, the fact that Alice in Chains have reformed and released a new album isn’t all that improbable. Though their earliest albums were marked by the passionate, fiery vocal performances of original lead singer Layne Staley, he began to withdraw during the band’s later years as his addictions got the best of him. By the time of the band’s final, self-titled album in 1995, Layne – who eventually died of an overdose in 2002 – sounded almost like he wasn’t really there, a shadow of his former self.


Fourteen years after the original band’s swan song, Layne Staley’s ghost is ever-present throughout Black Gives Way to Blue. Guitarist and chief songwriter Jerry Cantrell blended his voice so well with Layne’s back in the day that whether he’s singing to his own multi-tracked vocals or in harmony with new lead singer William DuVall, one could be forgiven for thinking that Layne had come back from the dead to add his stamp to the record. Not only that, the album has more in common with Alice in Chains than with any of the band’s other records; Cantrell shares the lead vocal spot more frequently than he did on Dirt or Facelift, the overall tone is more melancholy and dire than manic mindfucks like “Sickman,” “Real Thing” or “Them Bones” ever aspired to be, and other than “Take Her Out” and the catchy lead single “Check My Brain,” pop hooks are few and far between.

While the title track tastefully pays tribute to the band’s fallen singer, its much-hyped Elton John appearance on piano ultimately disappoints; what could have been an epic memorial and a signature piece of the reborn band comes off more like a demo, and one that’s still searching for a bridge and a suitable conclusion, ending far too soon. Even now, Alice still has one up on copycats like Godsmack and Staind, but Black Gives Way to Blue falls just short of what they’re truly capable of achieving. (Virgin 2009)

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Click to buy Black Gives Way to Blue from Amazon


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