Is it worth a listen? Dirt

The iconic album art for Dirt depicts a woman half buried in dirt.

Rocky Schenck

The iconic album art for Dirt depicts a woman half buried in dirt.

In the 90’s the love affair of heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Motörhead)  and hardcore punk (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys) resulted in the dis-formed, angsty love child, grunge. This mixing pot music came together in Seattle, the birthplace of grunge. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Alice in Chains all came from the rainy Washington city.

There have been genres of music that have gotten their starts in regions and cities. For example, American thrash metal (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth) gained traction in the Bay area, Motown (The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder)  came from Detroit, death metal (Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary)  got its start in Florida (surprisingly). 

Alice in Chains was formed by guitarist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney, later bassist Mike Starr and lead vocalist Layne Staley joined. Their debut album Facelift was released in 1990 under the record label Columbia Records, the notable track that came from the album and is subsequently one of Alice’s classic tracks, “Man in the Box”. They would follow this album up with Dirt, which ended up becoming their breakthrough album with tracks such as, “Would?”, “Rooster”, and “Angry Chair”. 

This week joining our discussion will be bassist who has been primarily inspired by Mike Starr, junior Ryan Fairchild, “Peace Frog” enjoyer, junior Luke Walz. Let’s dive into this classic Grunge album. 

As touched on in the beginning, Facelift was the debut album but Dirt was the album that shot Alice in Chains into stardom. This was the band’s Nevermind (Nirvanna, 1991). The success and all the spotlight on this album leads to some of their other albums to be forgotten at times, Fairchild feels that Dirt is overrated. He feels that more of the light should go on their other albums such as Facelift and later albums of theirs such as Jar of Flies

Walz man on the other hand hasn’t listened to any of their other albums fully. However, Dirt as he says is a “Great album, with many memorable songs.” Alice in Chains is one of his favorite grunge bands alongside Stone Temple Pilots, considering the fact that Walz has only listened to one album from them completely this shows how fantastic this album is.

While Fairchild feels the album is overrated, they both can agree on the aspects of this album that makes it a good, even great album. The gloomy atmosphere that is created by the instrumental inspired by the likes of Black Sabbath (“Iron Man,” “Hand of Doom”), Black Flag (“My War,” “Six Pack”). The grunge genre is known for its usage of distorted guitars with heavy fuzz to achieve a grimy quality to the sound. This is best exemplified in songs like, “Rooster,” “Would?,” “Hate to Feel.”

The heavy basslines that pound at your head, as Fairchild pointed out to me, heard in songs like “Would?” Then the fuzzy distorted guitar wailing and whining, complementing the raspy Staley. Alice in Chains is best known for their vocals from Staley, just like Soundgarden known for Chris Cornell’s vocals. Staley has a fantastic voice that works perfectly with grunge.

Layne Staley the vocalist for Alice in Chains, who tragically overdosed in 2022. (Rex Aran Emrick)

Which is funny, considering how grunge is usually made fun of for the sometimes undecipherable vocals, songs like “Smells Like Nirvana” (“Weird Al” Yankonvic) and “Song 2” (Blur) parody this. However, that is a part of the style of grunge. It’s those vocals that at times you can’t even tell what they are singing, but the emotion that lies behind it.

It’s the emotions that define grunge. Fairchild, and Walz found this to be true during their listens.  The emotional quality of these songs is due to the attachment the members have, as most of the songs have some connection to experiences in their lives. Whether its about Staley’s father’s experiences in Vietnam (“Rooster”) or experiences with heroin and the effect it has on them (“Junkhead”)

As Walz pointed out, “stood out because of the dark or “doom” like feeling these songs convey that the band carries with themselves and reflects their lives.” Alice in Chains and Nirvana are the grunge bands that best exemplify it. 

In the end, I would have to give Dirt  a solid “Alice in Chains not Alice in the Chains”/10. As always, I’m looking for new music to listen to so if you ever have a suggestion just let me know. If you don’t agree with us on Dirt then let us know what you think about this album. Catch you next time on “Is it worth a listen?”