Alice in Chains – “Black Gives Way To Blue”

Notice how the background is blue and black. That's thematic.

I really don’t know how I feel about Alice in Chains’ new album, and I wasn’t sure I’d have enough coherent things to say to constitute a review. I know for sure that it’s a rather good rock record, and I know I’m glad Cantrell and co are making music, but I do miss the way Layne Staley’s voice used to make a great song even better. But such personal, impossible-to-pin-down reservations are meaningless when reviewing an album for the masses. Thus:

There are lots of ways to open a review of Alice in Chains’ long-awaited return to the studio. The obvious approach is to eulogise Layne Staley, their sorely-missed lead singer. But I have some deep-seated neuroses that don’t let me do things the obvious way. (They also don’t let me touch public bathroom door handles without covering my hand with my sleeve, or trust anyone who doesn’t remember Aqua’s “Doctor Jones” with a fond, nostalgic sigh. But anyway.) Nonetheless, Staley’s absence hangs heavy over Black Gives Way To Blue, like a collapsed, rainsoaked tent atop unwitting campers – the lack of Staley’s unique, pained vocals defines and informs this album as much as new singer William Duvall’s presence.

So it’s probably for the best that the band addresses the issue almost immediately. “All Secrets Unknown” opens the album with a frank and open divulging of where Jerry Cantrell and company stand on the Staley-less nature of the group: “Hope, a new beginning/Time, time to start living, like just before we died… There’s no going back to the place we started from.” And it’s somewhat telling that, atop a classic droning, metallic riff, it’s Cantrell’s voice taking lead – as much as Duvall has, over a few years of touring, become an accepted part of the fold, it’s Cantrell’s responsibility to show everyone that this is a natural, timely and well-deserved return for Alice.

If nothing else, please listen to the title track. It’s beautiful.


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