Many rock artists pride themselves on their ability to blow your eardrums out with each song they play. Even though volume is at the core of rock music, many musicians don’t understand the essence of a good band: restraint.
With the 1994 Jar of Flies EP, Alice in Chains showed how to lay everything out in a bare state and have the songs still sound amazing.
Jar of Flies was written while Alice in Chains were in a state of limbo due to their respective narcotic habits, particularly frontman Layne Staley. Given the context, this album is an authentic look at a man who has been beaten by his own inner demons.
While Alice in Chains were on the metal side of 90s rock, this EP’s almost all-acoustic arrangements make the songs shimmer with a wounded beauty that is hard to find in many other bands of the era.
Songs like “No Excuses” and the semi-country tinged “Don’t Follow” show lyricist Jerry Cantrell sending a hopeful message to Staley to clean up his act. These songs also display the biggest strength of Alice in Chain’s song crafting: the harmonies between Staley and Cantrell. Their voices hover over the instrumentation with a melancholic beauty.
Sadly, Staley’s demons got the better of him. He passed away in the spring of 2002, but this album stands as the shining example of how talented a musician he really was. The quiet gorgeousness makes these songs hold up as some of the best melodies in 90s rock.
Many observers would cite the drugged out centerpiece, 1992’s Dirt, as their best work, but if you want to know the essence Alice in Chains, you have to reach for a Jar of Flies.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.