Diseño: Jennifer Ancizar, a partir de la portada del álbum Dirt.
Diseño: Jennifer Ancizar, a partir de la portada del álbum Dirt.

The stripped disc: Dirt

11 minutos / Carlos M. Mérida

28.07.2020 / Worn-out record,  Reviews

Prometí hablar del Dirt (Columbia Records, 1992), y aquí estamos.

That initial roar is an alarm clock; not the digital ones that start softly and become tiresome little by little, nor your mother first stroking your foot, kissing your temple and whispering "come on, my boy"; but the old men, those who use the shock to get you out of sleep, the shouting professor on duty turning on the light in the hostel and uncovering you with a brusque gesture at six in the morning. It is a prank that someone sneaked into the playlist of your strawberry neighbor's party of 15. Those of Seattle, when choosing such a thunderous and direct opening, are demanding our immediate and complete attention: "Look baby, listen to me well, I'm going to tell you something." They are not interested in gilding the pill for us; they don't wear out, it's too late, the bad taste will come out anyway.

Ese rugido inicial es un despertador; no de los digitales que arrancan bajito y se van volviendo cansinos poco a poco, ni tu mamá primero acariciándote el pie, dándote un beso en la sien y susurrando “vamos, mi niño”; sino de los viejos, los que se valen del sobresalto para sacarte del sueño, el profesor de guardia gritón encendiendo la luz del albergue y destapándote con un gesto brusco a las seis de la mañana. Es una broma pesada que alguien coló en la playlist de la fiesta de 15de tu vecinita fresa. Los de Seattle, al elegir un opening tan estruendoso y directo, están reclamando nuestra atención inmediata y completa: “Mira nene, escúchame bien, que te voy a decir algo”. No les interesa dorarnos la píldora; no se gastan, ya es muy tarde, el mal sabor saldrá de cualquier manera.

This is by far the best Alice in Chains album, and one of the most spectacular in rock history. Conceptual, almost monothematic, it tells - as if it were a movie screenplay from the 1940s - the story of an antihero who, replacing the felt hat and the revolver with the spoon and syringe, is dragged to the bottom of the well by a femme seductive and cunning fatale, but much more destructive than any Gilda in the world. I think it gives us time to talk a little bit before the movie starts.

Jerry Cantrell was always the heart of this group, without question. Forget it; without him there is no Alice in Chains. Layne Staley's inimitable voice placed them in the stratosphere, but the truth is, it didn't define them; the sound of the guitar and the vocal arrangements did. Alice in Chains continued to be a more than decent band, and their fingerprint was not erased after the death of their historic vocalist in 2002. Oh, isn't that the same? Of course not. Nothing is the same as Layne Staley. What I mean is that if you are in the kitchen fiddling with the television on, and in a musical program on the Educational Channel - one of those in which David Bisbal is shot the same as Metallica - they play a concert of them, you know ―Without having to stick your head out to see ―that it's Alice in Chains before anyone sings, and that's the fault of the man with the most beautiful rock and roll hair (with forgiveness by Rick Wakeman).

Grunge is an easily locatable movement in terms of space and time (Seattle, second half of the 80s, first of the 90s), but not so much when it comes to style. Except for self-destruction and checkered shirts, I find it difficult to put Nirvana and Alice in Chains in the same bag. The number of seconds Dave Grohl spends twice hitting the center of the box patch with the drumstick he is holding in his left hand is ten times less than the amount used by Sean Kinney for the same maneuver. That is why the latter is the least sweaty drummer in the genre and that is why, too, we lean forward with euphoric Smells Like Teen Spirit or Lithium; and backwards with Rain When I Die or Junkhead, regretful. That pachydermic slowness is another of the signs of Alice in Chains, and it was in this album where it was configured forever. The tempo in most of the songs is not mechanical or instinctive, it does not come out alone, the body does not tend to it; It is a reflexively slow, counter-natural tempo, like that of certain Los Van Van songs. A self-respecting Alice in Chains fan has occasionally lost patience and started a fake, starting to scream when Layne Staley first says, "Here they come to snuff the rooster ...".

When I was discovering this band a little over ten years ago, the first thing that tickled me, before the heavy sound of Cantrell's guitar and Staley's acting virtues, was the beautiful timbral contract that they both signed. Their voices seem made for each other; they are Siamese, symbiotic doorbells, like those of Paul Simon and his faithful companion Art Garfunkel; There comes a time when their limits are blurred, and then one takes from the other and vice versa: the same sound remains on the outside, but what happens to Don Quixote and Sancho happens inside, with the unreason of one and the pragmatism of the other. Go to the start of Down in a Hole, and melt when those colleagues sing, "Bury me softly in this womb."

Now let's talk about dirt. There are those who say that Layne Staley was stung at this time even in the recording studio, and I think so. He was the main lyricist of the album and he only spoke of one thing: his addiction to heroin, which already - ten years before he finished killing him - had been mistreating him.

The truth is, I don't think the Alice in Chains have set out to make this a concept album; However, the narrative of the album is so well accomplished that they ended up, unconsciously, giving it this character. They ended up telling a most attractive story, round, with a moral and everything, about a guy sunk in his addiction. This, in a first reading, on the surface, but if we dive a little bit, we will find a much more interesting story: that of the individual who confuses reality with his metaphor, the man with his character.

With 13 songs, the phonogram can be divided into two very well defined zones: from the beginning to track seven, and from the eighth to the end. When Junkhead ends there is a gap: the curtain closes, people go to the bathroom, and smokers calm their overalls in the hallway. It is a pity that in the LP edition - probably for reasons of space - this piece did not close the A side, and it had to be located by opening the back of the vinyl, which quite contradicts the narrative scheme.

This album is famous for its darkness and its heavy accent, but that well-earned reputation is not - at least in the main degree - a consequence of the themes of the first block. It is true that there are courts such as Down in a Hole and Sickman, that it is easy to see from the titles that this is not the place where loving bears live; But when things start to get really serious, where the smell of urine, shit, vomit and hospital is born, it is in Dirt. It is no coincidence that the song that the album is titled has been placed so far behind in the order (eighth), which is not very common; this clearly obeys an expository, gestural intention. As I said before, it is not that the band has sat down with Dave Jerden, producer of the album, and has agreed to release a super elaborate album from the idea, type The Wall, but it did come to a point where they saw a few songs in the hand that, due to their morphology, could be arranged so that they could count something in chorus, beyond what they counted per se.

In the first part, the protagonist of this story appears leading a fairly "normal" life; with the common annoyances, fears and fury of age, but a life where heartbreak (Rain When I Die), war (Rooster), concern for death (Them Bones), sex (Down in a Hole) still exist. ) and the naive guapería “I eat the world, no matter what they say” (Dam That River). In the two themes in which the narrator-character speaks openly about his addiction and its consequences, he does so from a proud, challenging position; His hookup and depression still seem cool to neighborhood friends and high school girls. Notice how at Sickman, with everything and the existential downturn, we hear: “What’s the difference? I’ll die ”. That is the classic attitude of the irresponsible brat, which is emphasized in Junkhead: “(…) we are anelite race of ourown: the stoners, junkies and freaks. Are you happy? I am, man; content and fully aware ”. Thus ends the first part, with an arrogant protagonist, horny with his junkiness; You don't even care if your addiction is controllable. The man feels good about the character, the border between reality and the trashy version of it have disappeared from his radar. He understands (and is mistaken) that what he believes he wants to be is what he truly is; It has happened to all of us.

When the curtain rises again, we find a worn-out and defeated subject, who tells us, without makeup, through Layne Staley's creepy voice: “I have never felt such frustration or lack of self control. I want you to kill me and dig me under. I wanna live no more ”. Furthermore, he is a subject capable of thinking to himself: “One who doesn't care in one who shouldn't be. I've tried to hide myself from what is wrong for me. " He has matured, the junkie picnic is not so much fun anymore, that is why he declares in Hate to Feel, a very sensual subject crouched in the penultimate chair of the album: “(…) [I] got to get pincushion medicine. [I] Used to be curious; now the shit’s sustenance ”.

The climax of the plot comes with Angry Chair, the penultimate track, where you will decide if our protagonist is saved or not. I saw the film in 2008, that is, I already knew the end, but that didn't stop me from getting excited. What throws me flat on the couch of discouragement are the first words of this topic. When I have to give my chama an educational speech about the danger of hard drugs like heroin, I'm not going to talk much; Instead, I'm going to play the MTV Unplugged (Columbia Records, 1996) video of Alice in Chains, and I'm going to fast-forward it until Cantrell and Staley, with their mortuary voices, mutually tainted, sing: "Sitting on an angry chair. Angry walls that steal the air ”.

El clímax del argumento llega con Angry Chair, la penúltima pista, donde se va a decidir si nuestro protagonista se salva o no. Yo vi la película en el 2008, o sea, ya me sabía el final, pero no por eso dejó de emocionarme. Lo que me tira de plano en el sofá del desaliento son las primeras palabras de este tema. Cuando yo a mi chama tenga que darle un discursito educativo sobre el peligro de las drogas duras como la heroína, no voy a hablar mucho; voy a poner, en cambio, el video del MTV Unplugged (Columbia Records, 1996) de Alice in Chains, y le voy a dar fast forward hasta que Cantrell y Staley, con sus voces de funeraria, mutuamente contaminadas, entonen: “Sitting on an angry chair. Angry walls that steal the air"

Would? is the close of the story. Its conclusive flavor, of count, of judgment is evident. In the chorus you hear: “So, I made a big mistake. Try to see it once my way ”; and in the last words of the song, which are in turn those of the album, the narrator asks us: “Am I wrong? Have I run too far to get home? Have I gone, left you here alone? If I would, could you? ”They don't even look at me; ask the girl on the cover, half-sunk in the swamp, with an expression of apparent relief, of death.


Carlos M. Mérida

Oidor. Coleccionista sin espacio. Leguleyo. Temeroso de las abejas y de los vientos huracanados.

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