Mr. Showbiz Magazine November 8, 1995
It is past wondering the full extent of Alice in Chains' lead singer Layne Staley's demons. Whatever the combination of addiction and depression is, it has driven him repeatedly close to self-destruction. Yet the band has pressed on, turning Staley into some kind of wraith, muttering darkly at what remains of his humanity through his music. And after so much self-exorcism and brinkmanship, it is hard to imagine what pleasure might be wrung from the latest batch of songs he and his three bandmates have assembled, both for the artist and audience. But, clearly, pleasure is not the issue; the issue is catharsis.
But what is the rest of the band to do while Staley fights his own battles away from music? The working title for this self-titled album was Tripod, and the CD cover depicts a three - legged dog -- a metaphor for the band without its singer. The record begins with the pulsing "Grind" and the voice of guitarist Jerry Cantrell: "In the darkest hole/You'd be well advised/Not to prepare my funeral/'Fore the body dies." These lines are followed by a dry, self-satisfied, and drawn-out "Yeeaah." That's the voice of Staley, but the two voices are almost identical. The sing in tandem on much of the album, perhaps revealing that though the band may be frustrated by Staley's erratic commitment, it cannot thrive without him.
But what is this opening salvo saying lyrically? That the brain, heart, and soul have been killed, and only the body remains? Is this meant as some kind of triumph? As listeners, are we driving by a brutal accident on the highway, unable to look a way?
Ethical questions aside, Alice in Chains has delivered a set of comparatively quiet songs for a hard-rock band. There is little screaming as Staley sings "I try to get away/And yet I stick around" in "Brush Away." There are just quiet, sad figures drawn around his voice, the phrases circulating, crying, and moaning. Cantrell's guitar is particularly expressive, too, but lyrics like "There's no pressure besides brilliance" suggest he may have a few struggles of his own. Plenty of bands wrangle with demons, yet survive despite complicated and difficult personalities who inconsistently usher forth spasms of catharsis. When such exercises work (Royal Trux, Joy Division), the music carries a kind of survivor's joy or con artist's glee. But, judging by this album, Alice really is in chains, and, like Prometheus, something continues to eat at her.