Sometimes, you have to be really specific on your Christmas list.
In 1996, Alice in Chains released Unplugged. Three years later, the boys in Chains shot the wad by releasing not one but two albums for the holiday season of 1999. Christmas shoppers had their choice between Music Bank, a 4 CD opus, or the trimmed down Nothing Safe – Best Of The Box, which was a “best of the best” release. Not bad for a band who hadn’t played together since ’96.
So when I secretly wished for a year 2000 Alice in Chains release, I should have been more specific and asked for new *material*, not just a new disc. Alice in Chains’ Live, debuting December 5th and marketed once again directly to holiday shoppers, offers live versions of all the songs you’ve already heard on their last 3 releases (not including the studio releases also).
The marketing campaign for Live pushes the fact that this is the first official, live, PLUGGED-IN release from Alice In Chains. Ok Sony/Columbia, you caught me on a technicality, it’s a little different than the last three CDs. Not all of the songs on Music Bank are live, and the songs on Unplugged are obviously acoustic, so technically, yes, these versions are slighly different. The liner notes and web site push the rarity of some of these recordings, so I was a little confused when I read the set list and saw every major AiC hit. It turns out that that the songs aren’t rare, but rather that they are rare recordings of non-rare songs. Go figure.
The CD runs the gamut from old to new material. According to their website, the tracks “span several live recordings from November 5, 1990, through tracks recorded at the band’s last shows opening for KISS in July, 1996. Live also includes tracks from the 1993 Glasgow Barrowland shows, the first to feature the then newly-recruited bass player Mike Inez.” The tracks are edited together in such a way that it sounds like all one show, for the most part.
Overall, the song choices make sense. There’s nothing too obscure here – anyone with MTV or a car radio should know most of these. The disc opens up with an odd choice, “Bleed The Freak” (where’s “We Die Young”? Bumped for “Bleed The Freak”?) and then moves to the somewhat obscure “Queen of the Rodeo” – from there, it’s all radio friendly. “Angry Chair” leads into “Man in the Box,” “Rooster” leads into “Would,” “Dirt” leads into “Them Bones” … there’s no shockers here. “God Am,” “Junkhead,” “Love Hate Love,” “Again,” and a “Little Bitter” take you through some of the Chains lesser known hits, but then the album ends on an upswing, driving the tempo back up with “Dam the River.”
The songs are all good quality, better than what you will find on any bootleg. Layne’s voice is mixed right out front, the guitar solos are there in the mix but the normal guitar parts aren’t overdriven too badly. The bass isn’t muddy, like you get with a lot of live recordings. The drums sound exactly like they do on the song’s studio counterparts.
So, what do we have here? A live CD of well-worn Alice in Chains material. Hey, I loved “Angry Chair” when it came out on 1992’s Dirt. I liked it on 1996’s Unplugged. I liked in on the Music Bank, and I liked it on Nothing Safe – Best Of The Box. I’m just not sure I need another copy of it, but here it shows up again, on Live. Yes it’s live – and yes, it’s still the same song.
We’re living in a world where Tupac Shakur has released more albums after he died than when he was alive. A Jimi Hendrix 4 CD set of unreleased material recently came out, and he’s been gone for 20 years! The major labels have repeatedly shown that they will retread the same stuff over and over – and most mindless zombies will eat it up. Checking on CDNOW, it looks like Alice In Chains had 5 studio albums, and 4 compilation ones (spreading over 7 CD’s) – so far.
Bottom line, Alice In Chains’ Live isn’t bad – it just doesn’t offer anything new. If you’re a die hard Chains fan, love live music, and haven’t picked up a bootleg of one of their shows, you might grab this for nostalgic reasons. If you’re not a big fan, go buy Dirt, stock up on what Layne would call “your drug of choice”, listen to the album with headphones, get depressed, and BECOME a fan. At least they didn’t release a different version of this disc for each city they played in.
01. Bleed The Freak
02. Queen Of The Rodeo
03. Angry Chair
04. Man In The Box
05. Love Hate Love
10. Them Bones
11. God Am
13. A Little Bitter
14. Dam The River