A few months ago, I wrote a retrospective on Alice In Chains’ 1992 album, Dirt — by pretty much any measure the band’s masterpiece, and a revealing document of singer Layne Staley’s genuine struggles with addiction, among other things. Those struggles eventually killed Staley, in 2002, seven years after he recorded his final album with AIC (the band’s self-titled third LP), leaving the band’s guitarist/songwriter/co-singer Jerry Cantrell without a frontman. It’s hard to blame Cantrell for recruiting new vocalist William DuVall in 2006 (which led to a fourth AIC full-length, Black Gives Way To Blue, in 2009): Cantrell clearly had remaining creative energy, and the AIC brand has a great deal more value than anything else Cantrell might associate himself with. Furthermore, it’s not unheard of for bands to replace frontmen — this is especially true of metal bands (and AIC is, at its core, a metal band). It’s not even necessarily tasteless for bands to replace frontmen after passing too young: After Bon Scott died, AC/DC brought in Brian Johnson, and that worked out OK. But something about AIC MK2 feels a little ghoulish just the same: Maybe its because Staley’s own identity was embedded so deeply in the core of AIC’s best music; maybe it’s because DuVall seems to have no greater goal than sounding exactly like Staley, lending the project a tribute-band quality. The band just released a new song, “Hollow” — preceding a 2013 LP — and while Cantrell’s gifts are on display in abundance (by any objective measure, “Hollow” is a very good AIC song), it still kinda icks me out. But don’t let my reaction affect yours — give it a listen.
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