Last fall, I wrote a much-discussed piece about the important role that I believe Alice in Chains played in the history of rock 'n' roll. Their overcoming Layne Staley's tragic death has been something of an underdog story that needs to be applauded for the unimaginable heartbreak they live with and the sheer tenacity they had to put the band back on any stage AT ALL! Last Saturday in Detroit, Alice played their first gig in the campaign that will support the release of their first record this decade--a tour that I think will cement them as the premier rock band on this planet. They will have never before toured a record like they will this time around, because of past drink/drug issues rampant throughout their talented ranks.
Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. Follow him on Twitter @Duff64.
When the new record comes out in two months (September 26), it will mark the 17th anniversary of the release of the heralded Dirt, which contains so many of the Alice songs that became the soundtracks to so many of our lives. Dirt should be, in my opinion, the cornerstone of anyone and everyone's rock CD collection. The new record will not take a back seat to Dirt in any way--it is simply right up there with any Alice music ever, and in my humble opinion, they have beat themselves with much of the new stuff. Is this a lofty remark from somebody who just wants to give these guys a "leg up" from the soapbox of his own Seattle Weekly column? My reputation stands on what I say here, and I can't wait for the rest of you to hear what I have already been honored and trusted to hear. Do they know that I am writing this piece? No way in hell...they would wince, of that I am quite sure.
I am excited about rock music these days. After a great Loaded European festival tour last month, where I got to see a ton of live music every single day, I am happy to report that there is a sort of return to quality that I must admit I thought was maybe lost and gone forever. Young bands like Parlor Mob and older stalwarts like Mars Volta, Soundtrack of Our Lives, and Mastodon are out there kicking some asses and grooving their butts off. Sometime in the mid-'90s, it seems, terms like "kicking ass" and "setting a groove" were looked at as old-fashioned and un-hip. Shit, Nine Inch Nails even have a discernible soul factor to them these days...and I like it a LOT.
I am glad that Gibson Les Pauls and vintage Marshall amplification are replacing MIDI and ProTools as the prime tool of the rock trade. Musicianship as a whole took a downward turn as a result of too much reliance on taped onstage instrumentation. Don't get me wrong, bands like Muse and Shiny Toy Guns use tape as a true art form, but only AFTER first making themselves top-shelf players. I remember a musician telling me sometime in 1996 that Kurt Cobain had made it OK for the rest of us not to have to learn our instruments--I guess he assumed Kurt couldn't play? That guy had it so wrong. ALL the guys in Nirvana were such good players that they made it all SEEM so easy.
Now back to Alice in Chains and back to the topic.
Alice in Chains never really got the chance to tour and grow to a point of world domination back in the '90s for the aforementioned reasons. While Metallica and AC/DC are great and legendary, doesn't it seem that maybe the whole genre of rock has grown sort of stagnant? Best Buy and Target can promote and advertise and generally make a great fuss, but all the fluster about the Metallica and AC/DC records last fall kind of fell flat after the first couple of weeks. Both records were real good, but not GREAT as promised. The Alice record has greatness AND these guys are ready and able to tour. It is an exciting time for rock 'n' roll.
Why am I writing this now, a full two months before Black Gives Way to Blue's release? I am given free rein here, and have thus far simply written about things I am passionate about or that tickle my fancy. Last week, I was in Los Angeles and saw Alice play some acoustic songs in front of a small audience, and I realized that these guys have somehow remained intact with their friendships stronger and their music just as relevant and inspiring. When I witness something as cool and solid as what I saw that night, it just seems like the light and goodness of these guys' story should be shared...and that is all.
Have a great weekend, everyone, and thanks for the overwhelming response from last week. I respect what everyone had to say and look forward to more and more in-depth forums in the future.