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(4.5) Brooding Finale
on 25 December 2006
After creating a surge of fine albums in the 90s with the almost perfect tour-de-force of grunge - 1992's "Dirt" - and one of the most touching EPs I've ever heard - 1994's "Jar of Flies" - AIC's final output before Staley's death was this self-titled album, AKA "Tripod".
"Tripod" never really got the acclaim akin to "Dirt", although certain tracks got a deal of airtime such as the dingy Heaven Beside You, it is rather underrated in the grunge era. However, I feel it does lack the consistency of "Dirt" and at times feels a little bloated, but then it also contains some of AIC's finest work and has a very unique eerie feel to it, as it is the final works before the tragedy.
The opening two tracks kick things off in typical AIC grunge style. Grind has a menacing sluggish riff combined with an infectious chorus melody, a trademark of AIC at their best, and Brush Away is probably my favorite of the more straightforward rockers on the album with its stellar guitar interplaying from Cantrell and Staley's desperate cries of `I gotta get away...And brush away loose ground'. The vibes of anguish and depression are continued and multiplied tenfold by the punishing Sludge Factory, which feels like, well...sludge. This is the pinnacle of the album, and definitely up there with AIC's best achievements. The band bludgeon their way through the 7 minute entirety with huge walls of down-tuned guitars and one of Staley's best ever performances, his delivery is full of such deep frustration and anguish it is genuinely touching. Heaven Beside You then adds a different angle on the depressive and gloomy atmosphere, replacing the crushing chords with delicate acoustic playing (and yes, the odd strum of a power chord, naturally) and a rather desolate and detached vocal performance from Cantrell and Staley, both adopting an almost `laid back' style which works very well. After this break from the booming guitars, albeit a very emotional and intense break, Head Creeps opens with a bang, big guitars and distorted vocals from Layne, a fantastic opening.
The rest of the album is not quite as heavy, with the exception of God Am and So Close, both solid rockers, tracks such as Shame In You, Frogs and Over Now are slower and stripped of the powerful guitars. Shame In You is the first sign of a `happy' vibe, although it is quite open to interpretation, it could either be taken as a rare glimpse of sunshine or as a desolate, `given up' type ballad. The two closing tracks, which the band also use to close out the "Unplugged" session are both very touching and hold that eerie feeling I mentioned earlier - the feeling of the tragedy that followed the album.
Overall this is a fine piece of 90s grunge music, portraying a band that while not on their peak, can still create some fine music and with a vocalist like Layne Staley, there is a heavy emotional aspect, emphasised by his death which followed the album.