Dirt (Alice in Chains album)

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Dirt
Dirt (Alice in Chains album - cover art).jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 29, 1992 (1992-09-29)[1]
RecordedApril–July 1992[2]
StudioEldorado Recording Studios in Burbank; London Bridge Studio in Seattle; One on One Recording Studios in Los Angeles[2]
Genre
Length57:37
LabelColumbia
ProducerDave Jerden, Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains chronology
Sap
(1992)
Dirt
(1992)
Jar of Flies
(1994)
Singles from Dirt
  1. "Would?"
    Released: June 30, 1992
  2. "Them Bones"
    Released: September 8, 1992
  3. "Angry Chair"
    Released: December 6, 1992
  4. "Rooster"
    Released: March 15, 1993
  5. "Down in a Hole"
    Released: August 30, 1993

Dirt is the second studio album by the American rock band Alice in Chains, released on September 29, 1992, through Columbia Records. Peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart, the album was also well received by music critics. It has since been certified four-times platinum by the RIAA and gone on to sell five million copies worldwide, making Dirt the band's highest selling album to date.[6] It is the band's last album recorded with all four original members, as bassist Mike Starr was fired from the band in January 1993.[7][8]

The album spawned five singles: "Would?", "Them Bones", "Angry Chair", "Rooster", and "Down in a Hole"; all with accompanying music videos. The songs on the album focused on depression, pain, anger, anti-social behavior, relationships, drug addiction (primarily heroin), war, death, and other emotionally charged topics. Rolling Stone listed the album at No. 26 on its list of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time.[9]

Background and recording[edit]

The recording of Dirt began in the spring of 1992. Producer Dave Jerden, who had previously worked with the band on their debut, Facelift, wanted to work with them again. He admired vocalist Layne Staley's lyrics and voice, and lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell's guitar riffs. The track "Would?" produced, engineered and mixed by Rick Parashar, was recorded before the album, and first appeared on the soundtrack to the 1992 movie Singles.[10] Dirt was recorded at Eldorado Recording Studio in Burbank, California, London Bridge Studio in Seattle, and One on One Studios in Los Angeles from April to July 1992.[2]

Dirt was recorded during the Los Angeles riots that erupted following the acquittal of four LAPD officers caught on camera beating unarmed black motorist Rodney King.[11] The riots started on the first day of recording. The band was watching TV when the verdict for the incident was announced.[11] Jerry Cantrell was in a store buying some beer when a man came in and started looting the place. Cantrell also got stuck in traffic and saw people pulling each other out of their cars and beating them.[12] The band tried to get out of the town without getting hurt while LA was protesting against police brutality. They took Slayer vocalist Tom Araya with them and went to the Joshua Tree desert for four or five days until things calmed down. And then they moved back into the studio and started recording the album.[11]

When recording the album, Staley had previously checked out of rehab and quickly went back to using heroin.[10] Staley later went cold-turkey on his own while reading The Bad Place, by horror novelist Dean R. Koontz.[10] Jerden later said that he was told Staley felt animosity toward him dating back to the Dirt sessions due to Jerden repeatedly recommending to Staley that he get sober at the time.[13] Jerden said, "Apparently he got all mad at me [during the Dirt sessions] ... And what's my job as a producer? To produce a record. I'm not getting paid to be Layne's friend."[13]

Staley was not the only one who went through heavy drug use; Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr were also struggling with alcohol addiction.[14]

Music and lyrics[edit]

With songs written primarily on the road, the material has an overall darker feel than Facelift.[16] "We did a lot of soul searching on this album. There's a lot of intense feelings."[16] Cantrell said, "We deal with our daily demons through music. All of the poison that builds up during the day we cleanse when we play".[17] Drug use was front and center as a lyrical theme on the album. Three tracks (Sickman, Junkhead & God Smack) specifically reference heroin use and its effects.[18]

Staley revealed that the album is semi-conceptual and that there are two basic themes in it. The first theme is about "dealing with kind of a personal anguish and turmoil, which turns into drugs to ease that pain, and being confident that that was the answer in a way. Then later on the songs start to slip down closer and closer to hell, and then he figures out that drugs were not, and are not, the way to ease that pain. Basically, it's the whole story of the last three years of my life." Staley described the other theme as being about "painful relationships and involvements with persons."[18]

Staley later expressed regret about the lyrical content of some songs on Dirt, explaining, "I wrote about drugs, and I didn't think I was being unsafe or careless by writing about them ... I didn't want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I've had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they're high. That's exactly what I didn't want to happen."[19]

Cantrell said in 2013: "That darkness was always part of the band, but it wasn’t all about that. There was always an optimism, even in the darkest shit we wrote. With Dirt, it’s not like we were saying ‘Oh yeah, this is a good thing.’ It was more of a warning than anything else, rather than ‘Hey, come and check this out, it’s great!’ We were talking about what was going on at the time, but within that there was always a survivor element – a kind of triumph over the darker elements of being a human being. I still think we have all of that intact, but maybe the percentage has shifted."[20]

Cantrell told RIP magazine in 1993 that not all of the lyrics have drug reference:

On the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set collection, Cantrell cited "Junkhead" and "God Smack" as "the most openly honest" songs about drug use.[22]

Cantrell said he wrote "Them Bones" about "mortality, that one of these days we'll end up a pile of bones."[22] He told RIP magazine in 1993: "'Them Bones' is pretty cut and dried. It's a little sarcastic, but it's pretty much about dealing with your mortality and life. Everybody's going to die someday. Instead of being afraid of it, that's the way it is: so enjoy the time you've got. Live as much as you can, have as much fun as possible. Face your fear and live. I had family members die at a fairly early age; so I've always had kind of a phobia about it. Death freaks me out. I think it freaks a lot of people out. It's the end of life, depending on your views. It's a pretty scary thing. "Them Bones" is trying to put that thought to rest. Use what you have left, and use it well."[21]

Cantrell was inspired to write "Dam That River" after a fight he had with Sean Kinney, in which Kinney broke a coffee table over his head.[21][22]

The lyrics to "Rain When I Die" were written by Cantrell and Staley about their respective girlfriends.[18]

"Sickman" came together after Staley asked Cantrell to "write him the sickest tune, the sickest, darkest, most fucked up and heaviest thing [Cantrell] could write."[22]

"Rooster" was written by Cantrell for his father, Jerry Cantrell Sr., who served in the Vietnam War and his childhood nickname was "Rooster".[23][22] Cantrell described the song as "the start of the healing process between my Dad and I from all that damage that Vietnam caused."[22]

Discussing the title track "Dirt", Cantrell stated that "the words Layne put to it were so heavy, I've never given him something and not thought it was gonna be the most bad-assed thing I was going to hear."[22] Staley said he wrote the song "to a certain person who basically buried my ass".[18]

The 43-second "Iron Gland" was developed out of a guitar riff that Cantrell would play that annoyed the other band members, so he created the song (adding in a reference to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man") and promised to never play the guitar riff again,[22] although the track is played as intro music in concert.[24] It features Tom Araya of thrash metal band Slayer on vocals, as well as Layne Staley. "Hate to Feel" and "Angry Chair" were both composed solely by Staley, and Cantrell has expressed his pride in seeing Staley grow as a songwriter and guitarist.[22]

"Down in a Hole" was written by Cantrell to his long-time girlfriend, Courtney Clarke.[25] Cantrell explained the song on the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set: "["Down in a Hole"]'s in my top three, personally. It's to my long-time love. It's the reality of my life, the path I've chosen and in a weird way it kind of foretold where we are right now. It's hard for us to both understand...that this life is not conducive to much success with long-term relationships."[22]

The album's final track, "Would?", was written by Cantrell as a tribute to his friend and late lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood.[26] Cantrell said the song is also "directed towards people who pass judgments."[22]

Packaging[edit]

The album's cover art features a woman half buried in a cracked desert landscape. The cover was photographed by Rocky Schenck, who also created the image along with the album's art director, Mary Maurer.[27] It was the band's idea to have a nude woman half-buried in the desert for this cover, and she could be either dead or alive.[27] The band discussed the type of woman they wanted and Schenck began casting shortly after. Schenck submitted a photo of model/actress Mariah O'Brien and the band chose her.[28]

The cover shoot took place at Schenck's Hollywood studio on June 14, 1992, with the supervision of drummer Sean Kinney.[29] After the eight hour photo session, O'Brien went to the bathroom and left her wig embedded in the dirt. Schenck then snapped a few photos, which were later used for the 1999 box set Music Bank.[27]

For many years, fans believed that the model on the cover was Staley's then-girlfriend, Demri Parrot, but Schenck revealed to Revolver Magazine in 2011 that the girl was actually Mariah O'Brien, with whom he had previously worked on the cover of Spinal Tap's single "Bitch School".[27] The magazine also published behind the scenes photos from the shoot featuring O'Brien.[27] Schenck told Revolver Magazine:

In an interview with the Canadian magazine M.E.A.T. in December 1992, Layne Staley said about the cover:

The cover was referenced on the music video for Alice in Chains' 2009 single "A Looking in View". At the 6:55 mark of the video, a woman (played by Sacha Senisch) is seen lying on a cracked desert floor similarly to Dirt's cover.[30] "A Looking in View" was featured on Alice in Chains' fourth studio album, Black Gives Way to Blue, released exactly 17 years after Dirt on September 29, 2009.[31]

Release and critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[32]
Chicago Tribune4/4 stars[33]
Christgau's Consumer GuideB[34]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[35]
Entertainment WeeklyA[36]
Kerrang!5/5[37]
Q4/5 stars[38]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[39]
Spin Alternative Record Guide7/10[40]
Vox8/10[41]

This was the band's breakthrough album. Upon its release in September 1992, Dirt peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and went on until its 106th week, ending at number 194.[42] Dirt was released on the same day as another important album of the grunge era, Core by Stone Temple Pilots. Dirt granted Alice in Chains international recognition, and the album was certified four times platinum status in the United States,[43] platinum status in Canada and gold status in the UK.[44][45] The album had sold 3,358,000 copies in the United States as of 2008.[46] A remastered reissue of the album was released on vinyl on November 23, 2009.[47][48]

Dirt received critical acclaim, and is considered by critics and fans alike as the group's best album. In a retrospective review, Steve Huey of AllMusic said "Dirt is Alice in Chains' major artistic statement and the closest they ever came to recording a flat-out masterpiece. It's a primal, sickening howl from the depths of Layne Staley's heroin addiction, and one of the most harrowing concept albums ever recorded. Not every song on Dirt is explicitly about heroin, but Jerry Cantrell's solo-written contributions (nearly half the album) effectively maintain the thematic coherence—nearly every song is imbued with the morbidity, self-disgust, and/or resignation of a self-aware yet powerless addict."[32]

Michael Christopher of PopMatters praised the album saying "the record wasn't celebratory by any means -- but you'll be hard pressed to find a more brutally truthful work laid down -- and that's why it will always be one of the greatest records ever made."[49] Chris Gill of Guitar World called Dirt "huge and foreboding, yet eerie and intimate," and "sublimely dark and brutally honest."[50] Don Kaye of Kerrang! described Dirt as "brutally truthful and a fiercely rocking testimonial to human endurance".[37]

Dirt is often considered as one of the most influential albums to the sludge metal subgenre, which fuses doom metal with hardcore punk.[49][51] It was voted "Kerrang! Critic's Choice Album of the Year" for 1992.[52]

Dirt included the singles "Would?", "Them Bones", "Angry Chair", "Rooster", and "Down in a Hole", all of which had accompanying music videos. Dirt spawned five top 30 singles, including "Rooster", "Them Bones", and "Down in a Hole", and remained on the charts for nearly a year.[53][54]

At the 1993 Grammy Awards, Dirt received a nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance.[55] The band also contributed the song "Would?" to the soundtrack for the 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles, whose video received an award for Best Video from a Film at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.[56]

Dirt was also included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[57]

In 2008, Dirt was ranked as 5th best album in the last two decades by Close-Up magazine.[58]

In 2011, Joe Robinson of Loudwire named Dirt as one of the best metal albums of the 1990s, alongside other albums such as Megadeth's Rust in Peace and Tool's Ænima, writing "In the battle between metal and grunge, Alice in Chains are a rare band that is embraced by fans of both genres. The most metal of the Seattle bands, they were marketed as metal for 1990's 'Facelift,' then touted as grunge for 1992's 'Dirt.' The band members themselves didn't bother much with labels, they just churned out some of the finest alt-metal with classics like 'Would?,' 'Rooster' and 'Them Bones' leading their charge all the way to the headlining spot on Lollapalooza '93."[5]

In October 2011, the album was ranked number one on Guitar World magazine's top ten list of guitar albums of 1992, with The Offspring's Ignition in second place and Bad Religion's Generator in third place.[59]

Tour[edit]

Staley playing with Alice in Chains in Boston in 1992.

Alice in Chains was added as openers to Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tours tour. Days before the tour began, Staley broke his foot in an ATV accident, forcing him to use crutches on stage.[50] While on tour, Starr was kicked out of the band after the Hollywood Rock concert in Rio de Janeiro on January 22, 1993 and was replaced by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Mike Inez.[60][61]

During the summer of 1993, Alice in Chains joined Primus, Tool, Rage Against the Machine and Babes in Toyland for the alternative music festival Lollapalooza, which was the last major tour the band played with Staley.[62]

Track listing[edit]

"Sickman", "Junkhead", "Dirt" and "God Smack" are credited to Cantrell/Staley with no specification for lyrics or music. "Rain When I Die" is credited to Cantrell/Staley/Kinney/Starr,[63] but it was later revealed that Cantrell and Staley wrote the lyrics.[18]

No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Them Bones"Jerry Cantrell2:30
2."Dam That River"Cantrell3:09
3."Rain When I Die"Cantrell/Layne Staley/Sean Kinney/Mike Starr6:01
4."Down in a Hole"Cantrell5:38
5."Sickman"Cantrell/Staley5:29
6."Rooster"Cantrell6:15
7."Junkhead"Cantrell/Staley5:09
8."Dirt"Cantrell/Staley5:16
9."God Smack"Cantrell/Staley3:56
10."Intro (Dream Sequence)/Iron Gland" (sometimes unlisted)Tom Araya/Cantrell0:43
11."Hate to Feel"Staley5:15
12."Angry Chair"Staley4:48
13."Would?"Cantrell3:28
Total length:57:37

^ I On the Australian, European, and later U.S. and Canadian versions of the CD, "Down in a Hole" appears as the fourth track, located between "Rain When I Die" and "Sickman". On earlier U.S. and Canadian pressings, it appeared as track 12 placed between "Angry Chair" and "Would?" Current editions of the CD and the Vinyl have "Down in a Hole" as the fourth track[1][64][47] as the band originally intended before the record company changed the order.[21][18]

^ II Track 9 or 10, "Iron Gland", appears without a title on the album. The title appeared on the compilations Nothing Safe and Music Bank. The iTunes Store lists it incorrectly as "Iron Man". Before the name "Iron Gland" was revealed, it was labeled in some online databases as "Intro (Dream Sequence)". On editions in which "Down in a Hole" is track 4, "Iron Gland" is track 10. Some editions remove the track or may merge the track with "Hate to Feel".

^ III On the back cover of the edition in which "Iron Gland" is track 9, "Hate to Feel", "Angry Chair", "Down in a Hole" and "Would?" are listed from 9–12. However, when the CD is played, the songs are on tracks 10–13.

Outtakes[edit]

The songs "Fear the Voices" and "Lying Season" were featured on Alice in Chains' 1991 demo tape that featured songs from Sap and Dirt.[22] Both of these songs were later included on the band's 1999 box set, Music Bank. "Fear the Voices" was released as a single in 1999 to promote Music Bank and became a radio hit that same year. Regarding the two songs, Cantrell said that they came from a time when the band was still developing its sound.[22]

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Album charts[edit]

Charts (1992–1993) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[65] 13
Canada (RPM)[66] 25
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[67] 17
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[68] 37
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[69] 36
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[70] 15
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[71] 11
UK Albums (OCC)[72] 42
US Billboard 200[73] 6

Singles charts[edit]

Year Single Peak
position
US
Main

[74]
US
Mod

[75]
FIN
[76]
IRE
[77]
NLD
[78]
UK
[79]
1992 "Would?" 31 17 33 19
"Them Bones" 24 30 22 26
1993 "Angry Chair" 34 27 28 33
"Rooster" 7
"Down in a Hole" 10 29 36
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that country.

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[80] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[81] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[82] 4× Platinum 4,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

References[edit]

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External links[edit]