Once again Alice in Chains showed their collective greatness when they released this experimental EP in early 1994 (though at over 31 minutes this EP is longer than many classic LPs from the ‘60s).
Sporting a versatility that shocked many listeners upon its release (a bigger shock was its ascension to the #1 Billboard slot upon its release, a first for an EP), Jar Of Flies showed that good things could happen when a group is allowed to “just mess around” in the studio, provided that they have the chemistry and talent to make it work. As with Sap, the band shows off their mellower side here, but again the music retains its dense potency. Acoustic guitars are often the primary musical ingredient, but the band’s increased melodicism makes Jar Of Flies even more impressive than the previous EP, while Jerry Cantrell’s versatile guitar playing, including many a stellar solo, reinforces his standing as a major talent.
This album is a coldly beautiful yet often harrowing experience, and the vulnerable countryish ballad “Don’t Follow” can be seen as Cantrell’s pull no punches take on Staley’s drug addictions (“sleep in sweat the mirrors cold, see my face it’s growin’ old.”). Likewise, the less musically successful “Swing On This” can be seen as Staley’s ominous answer: “let me be, I’m alright, can’t you see I’m just fine.” More convincing is the desolate “Nutshell,” arguably the best song here, on which Staley states “and yet I fight this battle all alone, no one to cry to, no place to call home.”
Other highlights include the weirdly moody, wah wah-infested epic (6:59) “Rotten Apple,” the anthemic “I Stay Away,” a popular radio track on which strings lend a powerful hand, and the groovy, melodic hit single “No Excuses.” Even “Whale & Wasp,” a mere mood enhancing guitar instrumental, seems perfectly in place, as, one album after delivering one of the best heavy metal albums ever, Alice In Chains delivered one of my favorite “chill out” albums of all time.
Combining the band’s first two EPs, Screaming Life and Fopp , these songs generally see Soundgarden finding their legs. In particular, the Fopp EP is forgettable, featuring a decent original song (“Kingdom of Come”), a good cover song (Green River’s “Swallow My Pride”), and two awful covers of the same song (“Fopp” and “Fopp (dub)”) that was originally done by the Ohio Players. Thankfully, the Screaming Life EP (totaling six songs) is much better, starting with the somewhat thin but deliciously dirty sound rendered by producer Steve Fisk (with engineering help from Sub Pop house producer Jack Endino). The songs aren’t always there, though, and the performances are hit and miss as well. For example, Chris Cornell, who would become the band’s biggest asset, all but ruins “Tears To Forget” and “Little Joe” with his horrible vocals. A shame, really, as the former has a decent punk groove and the latter melodic guitars, though they’d be better off leaving funk metal attempts to the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. Fortunately, “Entering” and “Hand Of God” suit the band’s style much better, and though neither are especially memorable from a songwriting standpoint, both feature extremely powerful playing. Better yet is “Hunted Down,” an intense grinder with an air of menace, and “Nothing To Say,” the band’s first truly classic track on which Cornell unleashes his paint peeling screeches as the guitars swirl around him. The band would get much better, but these songs prove that Soundgarden was plenty good to begin with.
A change of pace for this, the third studio album by The Doors. Gone is the dark brooding of old, gone is the rock blues jazz mix. Well, everything gone for the most part, but all of these aspects do reappear in places. They’d used up their backlog of songs of course and a couple of tracks here do sound like definite filler. Open your eyes and ears however, go through with repeated listening and ‘Summers Almost Gone’ almost becomes your whole universe. The difference between this and previous Doors recordings is emphasized simply by the feel of this song. Imagine a sunset, sitting alone looking out of a window as the world flows by. Summers almost gone, and where will you be? What have you done? Jim sounds in fine voice and the music is dreamily relaxed. The musical mix is enhanced by piano, especially during the middle of the song. Didn’t I tell you The Doors always do great breaks in songs? Ha! This is no exception. This is still The Doors we know and love! This isn’t exactly Rock n Roll and not too many people out there appear to love this song in preferance to say ‘You’re Lost Little Girl’ but really, this is just beautiful and haunting. The opening ‘pop’ ‘Hello I Love You’ borrows its melody from The Kinks ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and really isn’t too great. It sounds tired, sounds under pressure to provide a commercial moment on demand. They were under strain and pressure to produce this set of songs as they largely had nothing prepared. ‘Love Street’ is funny! Again, like ‘Summers Almost Gone’ this is an evocative song musically and Jim once again sounds in fine voice. Another relaxed and mellow song full of hooks. The hooks are there!
Jim wanted a 12 minute plus song called ‘Celebration Of The Lizard’ to be included on the record. None of the other Doors did so instead they took out a section from that song and turned it into ‘Not To Touch The Earth’. Now, the old Doors sound fully returns – the pounding organ swirls, Jim sounding demonic and mystical as the track winds itself up and up further and further as it progressives. It ends up sounding dark as hell and very enjoyable! As the piece finishes Jim claims the title of ‘Lizard King’ and off we go into ‘Summers Almost Gone’. Fabulous stuff! Not everything is fabulous of course. I’d already hinted at that earlier hadn’t I? Yes! And? Well ‘Wintertime Love’ is lightweight for sure but again, its just so very entertaining. You can’t exactly take this short silly thing seriously but it does raise a smile when you realise this is The Doors doing this! This happy, jaunty little thing! ‘The Unknown Soldier’ I certainly don’t care for. I don’t like the tone of the lyrics and the music seems uninspired and repeating previous themes. ‘My Wild Love’ is hard to describe or explain. Some sort of chanting appears to be going on. Really, I just don’t understand what’s going on! It is actually unsettling though which may have been the point but all that’s really acheived is a desire in the listener to skip to the next track.
The album carries on through an unusual path. ‘We Could Be So Good Together’ again appears to be a lightweight composition by past Doors standards but it does sport decent melodies throughout. ‘Yes, The River Knows’ is the closest we come to Doors as easy listening here, something previously unimaginable. Yes, whilst the likes of ‘Summers Almost Gone’ created an atmosphere with a marriage of lyrics and appropriate music here the lyrics don’t entirely appear suited to the music at all. Nice piano though. And! After all of that we have some old style Doors music done very well with ‘Five To One’. The keyboard and bass pounds, the guitar is dramatic and Jim sounds on the edge. A good way to close something that remains an inconsistant listen, certainly when compared to the first two Doors records – but does have enough moments sprinkled throughout to ensure an enjoyable listen. The very fact that some songs here are so different sounding to previous Doors material is actually a good thing. The lack of a ‘Light My Fire’ or a ‘When The Musics Over’ is of course noticeable but if taken on its own terms, then yeah, this is certainly a good album.