Dirt is Alice in Chains' major artistic statement and the closest they ever came to recording a flat-out masterpiece. It's a primal, sickening howl from the depths of Layne Staley's heroin addiction, and one of the most harrowing concept albums ever recorded. Not every song on Dirt is explicitly about heroin, but Jerry Cantrell's solo-written contributions (nearly half the album) effectively maintain the thematic coherence -- nearly every song is imbued with the morbidity, self-disgust, and/or resignation of a self-aware yet powerless addict. Cantrell's technically limited but inventive guitar work is by turns explosive, textured, and queasily disorienting, keeping the listener off balance with atonal riffs and off-kilter time signatures. Staley's stark confessional lyrics are similarly effective, and consistently miserable. Sometimes he's just numb and apathetic, totally desensitized to the outside world; sometimes his self-justifications betray a shockingly casual amorality; his moments of self-recognition are permeated by despair and suicidal self-loathing. Even given its subject matter, Dirt is monstrously bleak, closely resembling the cracked, haunted landscape of its cover art. The album holds out little hope for its protagonists (aside from the much-needed survival story of "Rooster," a tribute to Cantrell's Vietnam-vet father), but in the end, it's redeemed by the honesty of its self-revelation and the sharp focus of its music. [Some versions of Dirt feature "Down in a Hole" as the next-to-last track rather than the fourth.]
Cake's Fashion Nugget
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sounding like a suburban, melodic white-funk-injected version of King Missile's performance art/standup comedy, "The Distance" became a novelty hit in the fall of 1996, sending Cake's second album, Fashion Nugget, to platinum status. Certainly, "The Distance" was the only reason Fashion Nugget went platinum, because the remainder of the album is too collegiate and arcane for mainstream music tastes. It isn't because it's obscure or intellectual -- it's because the band is smirking. An "ironic" cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is the key to the album, sending the signal that Cake consider themselves above everyone else, and nothing is too insignificant to make fun of. And that wouldn't necessarily have been a problem if they had the wit or musical skills that would make their music either funny or listenable. Instead, they wallow in sophomoric jokes that rely on self-consciously elaborate wordplay. Occasionally, their blend of collegiate musical styles -- funk, hip-hop, alternative rock -- makes the music easy to digest in small doses, such as "The Distance," but it isn't varied enough to prevent the album from becoming tedious.
Last edited by PlayingWithFire on Fri Jan 12, 2007 5:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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I have to admit it; I'm a Cake fan. The included review is pretty critical and probably not too far off, and Alice In Chains for all intents and purposes is a superior band. But I enjoy Cake's "ironic" interpretation of "I Will Survive."
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