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ALICE IN CHAINS - MTV Unplugged cover
4.60 | 26 ratings | 2 reviews
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Live album · 1996

Filed under Non-Metal


1. Nutshell (4:57)
2. Brother (5:27)
3. No Excuses (4:57)
4. Sludge Factory (4:36)
5. Down in a Hole (5:46)
6. Angry Chair (4:36)
7. Rooster (6:41)
8. Got Me Wrong (4:59)
9. Heaven Beside You (5:38)
10. Would? (3:43)
11. Frogs (7:30)
12. Over Now (7:12)
13. Killer Is Me (5:23)

Total Time 71:25


- Layne Staley / vocals, guitar
- Jerry Cantrell / guitar, vocals
- Mike Inez / bass, guitar
- Sean Kinney / drums

- Scott Olson / guitar, bass

About this release

July 30, 1996

Thanks to Pekka, Lynx33, UMUR, adg211288 for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

"Unplugged" is, as the name suggests, an unplugged live album by US hard rock/metal act Alice in Chains recorded for MTV as part of the TV station´s unplugged series. The album was released in July 1996 by Columbia Records. Shortly after the release the band went into what was initially an indefinite hiatus. It ended in 2006. In the meantime lead vocalist Layne Staley had sadly passed away from an overdose of heroin and cocaine in April 2002. Layne Staley had used/abused drugs for years but by the mid-nineties his addiction had become a major problem. In the years following the release of "Unplugged", Layne Staley often told interviewers that he was living hell and that the drugs had turned on him. The 1996 MTV Unplugged session was one of the last live shows Layne Staley performed with the band. The show has also been released on VHS and DVD.

The unplugged show on the album contains 13 tracks picked from various studio releases. The song "Killer is Me" is a new song that´s exclusive to this release. Other than that track we´re treated to classic Alice in Chains tracks like "Down in a Hole", "Rooster", "No Excuses", "Would?" and "Angry Chair" in fully acoustic versions. Not surprisingly it´s generally the tracks, that were originally arranged with little distorted electric guitars, that works the best, but it´s interesting to hear some of the harder edged tracks given an acoustic treatment too. An example that works well is "Would?" while the acoustic version of "Angry Chair" leaves a bit to be desired.

The band are generally very well playing and have for this particular show added a second guitarist in Scott Olson to add more depth to the sound. Quite a successful decision I might add. While the instrumental part of the music is well arranged and performed, the vocal performance might divide the waters. Alice in Chains are famous for their well sounding vocal harmonies and usually lead vocalist Layne Staley and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell are a strong team, who compliment each other well. That description is for the most part also true on "Unplugged". However when that is said I think it´s obvious that Layne Staley isn´t at his strongest here and there are some pitch problems and other minor glitches along the way that probably weren´t there in his early nineties heyday. Considering that the man at this point was probably already pretty marked by his drug addiction (the fragile nature of Layne Staley´s black shaded appearance in the video version of the release, only further fuels this assumption), his performance is actually decent and at times, like on "Down in a Hole" and "Rooster", his performance is strong enough to really move me.

The sound production courtesy of Toby Wright and Alice in Chains is warm, authentic and pleasant. A suiting sound for acoustic music.

"Unplugged" is a great testament to how intriguing the Layne Staley-era lineup of Alice in Chains actually were. The band´s music is for the most part easily transferable to an acoustic setting and that of course also helps on the listening experience, but let´s not forget that to succeed you still need to write great songs. Thankfully Alice in Chains are blessed with a songwriting skill extraordinaire and that´s what you get to hear when you strip away the distortion and strip the songs to the bone. All in all "Unplugged" is a strong live release deserving a 4 star (80%) rating.
Many grunge greats of the 90s like Nirvana and Pearl Jam appeared on the MTV Unplugged series performing widely acclaimed sets of originals and cover songs, and knowing the versatility of their far heavier peer Alice in Chains' output it was no surprise to see them take the stage as well. As the band jokes during the set, this was their favourite, no, the only show they had played in three years having skipped touring for both Jar of Flies and the self titled album for various personal problems, the drug addiction of Layne Staley being the most documented. As the video recording of the concert shows the frontman was visibly weak, crouching on his chair and hiding behind his shades, his voice having lost some of its former power but fortunately none of the heart and feel.

Before taking on their more electric material the band first launches into three songs taken from their semi-acoustic EPs Sap and Jar of Flies, and while they're quite similar to the originals I much prefer the sound of these completely acoustic renditions, especially in the case of Brother from the Sap EP, the sound of which I'm not very fond of to start with. Wisely the band avoids trying to turn their most metallic numbers like Man in the Box and Them Bones into something they're not and instead concentrate on the material more fitting for acoustic treatment. Sludge Factory retains much of its original heaviness but feels very natural, as do the other heavier numbers like Angry Chair and Would?. The first mentioned is among the definite highlights of the performance among with the softer numbers like Got Me Wrong, Heaven Beside You, the new song Killer Is Me and last but definitely not least Over Now. Jerry Cantrell has always handled the few lead vocal parts he's had with good care, but here he absolutely shines.

The biggest gem of the album and probably their entire career is the unbelievably delicate and beautiful version of Down in a Hole. A sort of a power ballad with heavy bass work originally, they turn it into an absolutely stunning duet between the healthy and vigorous Jerry Cantrell and the mangled-by-drugs Layne Staley. Amazing vocal interplay between them two.

On this album they perfected the idea they had played with on Sap and Jar of Flies. Definitely essential AIC material, please do not miss it.

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