Alice In Chain's Dirt
Review by Steve Huey
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.]
Sublime's self titled album(sorry 40 oz of freedom didn't get in. I had to pick one, and though I like 40 oz more. The consensus seems to be this album)
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sublime's eponymous major-label debut arrived a few months after the band's leader, Brad Nowell, died tragically of a heroin overdose. As a show of sympathy, the album tended to be slightly overrated in some critical quarters, who claimed that Nowell was an exceptionally gifted lyricist and musical hybridist, but Sublime doesn't quite support those claims. The trio does have a surprising grace in its unabashedly traditionalist fusion of Californian hardcore punk, light hip-hop, and reggae. Switching between bracing hardcore and slow, sexy reggae numbers, Sublime display supple, muscular versatility and, on occasion, a gift for ingratiatingly catchy hooks, as on the hit single "What I Got." What they don't have is the vision -- either lyrical or musical -- to maintain interest throughout the course of the entire album. Sublime sags when the band delves too deeply into their dub aspirations or when their lyrics slide into smirking humor. The low moments don't arrive that often -- by and large, the album is quite engaging -- but they happen frequently enough to make the record a demonstration of the band's blossoming ability, but not the fulfillment of their full potential. Of course, Nowell's death gives the record a certain pathos, but that doesn't make the album any stronger.