Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Alice in Chains – Check My Brain

And the more things change…


John Seroff: Full disclosure: I moshed to these guys at Lollapalooza and wrote a high school poem to the rhyme scheme of “Would?” called “Alice’s Chains”; so yeah, there’s a little nostalgia here. As with Pearl Jam, we’ve had about a decade and a half apart but this time, following the sad death of Staley, I’ve shared my down time with even their most rabid fans. Seems there’s a lot of those rabid fans and that they have long memories, as “Check My Brain” is currently Billboard’s #1 rock song in the US; no minor feat for a band that’s been inactive since the Clinton administration. Contemporary rock has more or less been eating its emo-licious tail for decades; no surprise that a song that sounds so entirely circa 1992 is being rapturously received. I’m just stunned that the revitalized band has been able to so precisely resurrect that vintage: nasal vocal whine, dentist drill grindy hook, sardonic snarly lyrics. This might as well have been an old outtake. It’s almost sad that a song this grungy still sounds fresh.

Hillary Brown: Having spent the 1990s listening to Elvis Costello and Leonard Cohen, I was always a little embarrassed to have sneaked into the assigned seating section at Lollapalooza to see Alice in Chains up close, especially as I did so far more for the sense of risk than because I had any interest in the band. But this makes me feel like it must have had some effect. Or maybe I just miss big, slightly Autotuned rock like this.

Anthony Easton: Have not changed their aesthetic since the 90s, but grinds harder and growls lower then the Vedder track the other week.

Michaelangelo Matos: OK, OK: anyone could sing those bending tunes and be backed by that menace-filled wavering guitar and sound like Layne Staley, more or less. We get it now, thanks.

Al Shipley: They might have wanted to work on evoking something from the band’s original run a bit better than “Again,” though.

Spencer Ackerman: Opens with some extremely Iommi guitar. Chorus is LOLworthy: “California’s all right/someone check my brain.” Stunningly, it’s an Alice in Chains track: sludgy, trippy and improbably poppy. Good.

Chuck Eddy: Thought they were consistently the most boring grunge band on the radio in the ’90s (which is saying a lot, giving all their competition), but now that the dreary sound’s less inescapable in general, I’m not finding this unbearable. There’s some buzz to the guitar, and the new singer could sometimes almost be the Candlebox dude doing that high nasal Axl stuff at the end of “Far Behind” in ’94. Which is to say the music manages a little California to match the words. Still doesn’t rock worth shit, of course. Then again, rocking was hardly ever what grunge was for.

Alfred Soto: When the helicopter-blade guitar riff intersects with their patented half-speed, narcoleptic vocals, I don’t check my brain at the door exactly, but the frontal lobe stops working. They still have nothing to say and are pretentious about it, but the sturm und churn here makes me think I underrated “Rooster.”

Martin Skidmore: Not much my kind of thing, but there is an industrial-strength grinding to this that gives it some real force and weight, though it sometimes seems like the weight of a depressive episode, despite a slight uplift and release in the chorus. Sort of impressive, if miserable and not terribly lovable.

Alex Ostroff: The 90s were so long ago that I’ve forgotten how effective some of grunge’s tricks were. A warped and whining guitar underlies the entire track, distorting and masking the sun-touched harmonies in the vocals. What would normally get written off as mid-tempo drudgery instead has a pull on me I can’t quite explain. I suspect it would sound even better coming out of a full wall of speakers.

Matt Cibula: Nice and wobbly like some of the better stuff, but not scary or bombastic enough. I have an old EP that’ll scare the hair off yr crotch, young ‘un. This ain’t that, but I am…intrigued.

Anthony Miccio: Even with their own reunion show paychecks, the guys in Stone Temple Pilots must be envious.

4 Responses to “Alice in Chains – Check My Brain”

  1. “impressively miserable” is pretty right on.

  2. Wow. Doesn’t rock worth shit? I must be hearing something different. I think the riff is great and f**king heavy. The chorus is catchy. And making fun of the lyrics? Aren’t most great rock songs based on silly lyrics?

  3. I probably would have preferred another Jerry Cantrell album! I still think the first one was really good (NB not listened to it in a decade)

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