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Track Review

Alice in Chains is back.

Yep. After 14 years in the "Where Are They Now" file, the pioneering Seattle-based grunge metal outfit returns with dollops of the droning, detuned guitars and eerily harmonized vocals that defined their sound in the ’90s. Sputnickmusic.com reviewer Mike Stagno said of the band’s attempt to recapture its old vibe, "The record [Black Gives Way to Blue] sounds as though it was genuinely ripped from the band’s peak years in the early ’90s."

If Alice’s sound remains more or less the same, however, what has changed is the band’s frontman. Founding singer Layne Staley battled drug addiction for a decade before succumbing to an overdose of cocaine and heroin in 2002. Now stepping behind his microphone is newcomer William DuVall.

Back in the day, grunge in general and Alice in Chains in particular tended toward an overcast perspective on life reflective of Seattle’s sunless existence. Not much has changed on Alice’s latest single—even though the song is, ironically, about sunny California.

"I found myself in the sun, oh yeah/A h‑‑‑ of a place to end a run, oh yeah/California, I’m fine."

Despite that initially positive assessment (swear word excepted), there is, apparently, no escaping darker moods: "I walk these streets/I creep and I fall, oh yeah/ … Tears have filled my bones/Years expended gone."

Seems safe to say Cali’s sunny scene isn’t working any kind of deep reparative healing here, though DuVall does hint (literally? metaphorically?) at bidding adieu to a violent way of life ("I hung my guns and put them away").

In an interview with blabbermouth.net, founding Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell said of the song’s inspiration, "There’s a certain aspect of sarcasm, I guess, being a guy from Seattle who lives in L.A., [an] ex-drug addict who lives in the belly of the beast and doesn’t partake, and being totally cool with that. It’s like being the bad gambler and living in Vegas. It’s right there. It’s just the irony of that and a little bit of sarcasm. And it’s not putting this place down at all. It’s just kind of like, ’Wow, you know, check my brain, wow.’"

Call it "California Dreamin’," grunge-style: rain while the sun shines.

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The Seattle band’s second single from their first album in 14 years hit No. 1 on the rock chart.

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August 17, 2009

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Adam R. Holz

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