In the early 90s, four bands from Seattle unleashed grunge music on the world and single-handedly put the final nail in hair metal’s coffin. Soundgarden’s BadMotorFinger, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind were all released in the fall of 1991; Alice in Chain’s debut full-length album, Facelift, actually led the pack by landing in stores a full year earlier than the other three, debuting in August of 1990.
It has been said that Layne Staley (vocals) and Jerry Cantrell (guitar, vocals) set out to capture the sound and mood of Seattle on Facelift; as a result, the album is moody, dark, emotional and heavy. By the time listeners reach the chorus of the disc’s first track (“We Die Young”), Alice in Chains’ sound has already been established: classic Cantrell riffs backed by drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr, smothered with a layer of Staley and Cantrell harmonies. It’s the sound and formula the band would stick with throughout the years.
Songs like “Bleed the Freak” and ” Sea of Sorrow” set the album’s overall tone, a mixture of metal, hard rock and blues combined with the band’s signature vocal style. While the pace occasionally picks up on tracks like “Put You Down”, typically the songs are slower and riff-based, like the album’s biggest single “Man in the Box.” “I Can’t Remember,” the fifth track on the album, is probably the most similar to AiC’s later material.
Most of Facelift’s lyrics are metaphoric and abstract; while you’ll find plenty to sing along to, you may not know what you’re singing about. According to Wikipedia, Jerry Cantrell once noted that “We Die Young” was written about an experience he had seeing young children with pagers and cell phones dealing drugs, something you’re not likely to get from the song lyrics alone. Interestingly, the topic of drug usage doesn’t appear much on Facelift, something the band would deal with both publicly and lyrically as Layne Staley’s addiction eventually spiraled out of control.
All fans of Alice in Chains or grunge in general should definitely give this album a spin. Facelift is one of the greatest debut albums of the ’90s and contains lots of classic yet often overlooked Chains material.
01. We Die Young
02. Man in the Box
03. Sea of Sorrow
04. Bleed the Freak
05. I Can’t Remember
06. Love, Hate, Love
07. It Ain’t Like That
09. Put You Down
11. I Know Somethin’ (’bout You)
12. Real Thing