03.21.2012

FROM THE VAULT: Alice In Chains – Sap

Alice In Chains was one of the great bands of the 1990s. Being a lead act in Seattle’s music scene, Alice In Chains released three albums and three EPs within the span of five years. Their music made an immense contribution to not only grunge, but rock music in general. They’ve influenced numerous bands, including already established Metallica. The harmony between lead singer Layne Staley and guitarist and backing vocalist, Jerry Cantrell was the most important asset of Alice In Chains. Their contrasts brought a compelling listen to their audiences. As Alice In Chains are mostly known for their heavy metal sound that was present in all three of their studio albums, the band, however, wanted to experiment with a softer sound, which ultimately led to the creation of their respective alter ego EPs, Sap and Jar of Flies. The band went into the studio in 1991 to record demos for their next album. However, the songs they recorded ended up being five acoustic songs. According to drummer, Sean Kinney, he had a dream about creating an EP called Sap. The band decided to leave the recordings as they were and release the short collection of songs as an extended play, Sap. Released in 1992, Sap was intended to experiment with a new sound, regardless the risk of losing fans of the band. Sap was successful and was certified gold. The EP had great acknowledgement in the light of the newly formed genre of grunge and Nirvana’s release of Nevermind in 1991. In 1994, another version of the song “Got Me Wrong” was featured on Kevin Smith’s film, Clerks. This brought more attention to the songs and the EP.

Alice In Chains – Got Me Wrong

Sap is a wonderful collection of acoustic songs that stands out from the rest of Alice In Chains’ work. Not only does Sap have an atmosphere of acoustic sounds, many musicians contributed to the EP. The first track on the album, “Brother”, begins with an acoustic guitar. Then Jerry Cantrell creeps in with his hummed vocals along with Ann Wilson, a member of the classic rock band from Seattle, Heart. Ann Wilson adds a very haunting effect to “Brother”. The song becomes slightly more aggressive with its hard percussion and electric guitar solo. This is one of the best songs from Sap. Although Layne Staley is not featured on the track, Ann Wilson serves as the perfect counter harmony with Jerry Cantrell. This song was featured on the bands release, Alice in Chains’ MTV Unplugged live concert. In this version, Ann Wilson is not present, yet Layne Staley sings with Jerry Cantrell. Personally, I enjoy this version equally as much as the recording with Ann Wilson. The lyrics itself are written by Cantrell about his younger brother living apart from him. The next cut, “Got Me Wrong”, is another highlight from the EP. This song really captures the harmony exchange between Cantrell and Staley, especially in the climatic chorus. It is about a relationship in which one person thinks they can change their partner. This song has been also featured on the bands MTV Unplugged, which works perfectly without the electric guitar. “Right Turn” is the next track, which I consider being one of the best from Alice In Chains. The song is credited as being by Alice Mudgarden. It features Chris Cornell from Soundgarden, Mark Arm from Mudhoney, and of course, Cantrell and Staley. Cantrell wanted to form a supergroup with these musicians, however, once all the bands hit success at a fast pace, the idea faded. I think that the song is in a way a little anthem of the grunge music scene. Each vocalist has his own solo output until finally all of them sing together for a big finale. It is one of the few songs where grunge musicians from different bands come together to perform an outstanding piece. It also really shows how these bands had friendly competition amongst each other. In the early 1990s, various grunge bands brought in other singers and musicians to perform on their albums.  The next track, “Am I Inside”, is another great piece from Sap and being the most haunting. It prominently features Staley on vocals along with Ann Wilson once again. This is the second and last track Ann Wilson sang on. The last song, “Love Song” is the weakest track on the EP. It isn’t as serious as the other tracks and it could arguably be a parody of what a “love song” is. Sap could do without this song, since it breaks the calm flow and atmosphere. Yet, one could get a good laugh out of it.

Alice In Chains would later return in 1994 to record their third and last EP, Jar of Flies. Layne Staley fancied the idea of another set of acoustic recordings, which turned into seven wonderful pieces. This EP would follow what the band started with on Sap. Albeit, Sap was not as successful, Jar of Flies became the first EP ever and by Alice In Chains to top the charts. The bands recording, MTV Unplugged, released in 1996, was the last time the band would perform songs from both Jar of Flies and Sap acoustically. I highly recommend this live performance, since it really captures the essence of Alice In Chains and how they can go from playing hard, loud riffs to performing stripped down, tranquil songs.

- Amirata Mahallati

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