Record Store Day 2017: Exclusive Double 7-inch Set
Over the last few years in particular, Record Store Day has really seemed to cater to a “collectible” market over a market wherein fan interest is the focus. That has proven to be a little frustrating. Because of it, record stores get glutted by people one day a year, all hoping to score something they can resell, not necessarily something they can treasure. A good example might be when RSD featured a reissue of Hormoaning by Nirvana. Releases like that can be frustrating for fans because they almost immediately appear on a multitude of online auction sites complete with unbelievable asking prices.
But, this year, it’s cool to see a release like this double-single set by Alice In Chains. The singles featured here aren’t the band’s biggest (one appeared on a movie soundtrack and the other on a hits compilation), but they are well-known and highly regarded by Alice In Chains fans. An argument could easily be made that this RSD title was released specifically with the band’s fans in mind.
“What the Hell Have I” Single
As soon as a stylus sinks into the A-side of this set and “What The Hell Have I” begins flowing out of the vinyl like liquid magma, fans will begin to feel their bones liquify in perfect satisfaction. Originally written during the sessions which yielded Dirt, “What The Hell Have I” lay fallow (perhaps in part because the sort-of-sitar-sounding guitar figure that producer Andy Wallace and guitarist Jerry Cantrell laid into the song) before the option of getting it on a movie soundtrack came along.
Listening to the song now, how well it has aged is kind of astounding. With the benefit of hindsight, lyrics like “It’s hard to start things over/You can feel the fire around us/ All the time” and “What the hell have I?/ Little pride” seem far more prophetic of the band’s future than anyone could possibly have guessed in 1993. Likewise, that sitar-sounding guitar part and the rhythmic presentation from bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney (who were still fresh in their association – Inez only joined Alice In Chains in 1993) sound like a perfect pre-cursor to where the band would be in 1995 as illustrated on the tripod album. Hearing how dark, smooth and sinister it sounds now is a little disconcerting now.
“A Little Bitter,” while it continues to sound more like a throwback to Facelift, somehow remains a strong and sweet confection that balances “What The Hell Have I.” Here again, Layne Staley’s vocal feels more “glam” than “grit” (like a compatriot in many ways to “Queen Of The Rodeo”) but that dulls its infectious edge in precisely no way. Here – even twenty-two years after the single’s original release – listeners will still be able to imagine the wry and prickly little smile on Staley’s face as he cracks lines like “I’m so selfish, paying your rent/ While your blood I’m taking.”
“Get Born Again” Single
Now, when one really thinks about it, a lot of creative miles, trials and tribulations had lapsed between when Alice In Chains wrote and recorded the material on the “What The Hell Have I” single and that on the second EP in this set, the “Get Born Again” release. About six years, for those keeping score. But in that time the development in AIC’s sound and the public’s awareness of Layne Staley’s addiction and just how debilitating it was were made painstakingly clear. Nevertheless, the two singles they fit together incredibly well when one listens to them back to back.
C-side + D-side
After the darkness and rage that “What The Hell Have I” and “A Little Bitter” put forth on the first single, “Get Born Again” tempers the energy quickly. The song opens with the dizzy sounding guitar figure which swirls around Staley’s vocal, as well as the muted/defeated tone in that vocal itself, but then builds with thunderous intensity and crushing weight. In retrospect, the enduringly frail and fragile tone of Staley’s voice throughout the song perfectly illustrates how dangerously out-of-control things had become in the AIC camp by 1998.
But, placed into a different context against the “What The Hell Have I” single, “Get Born Again” gives a very different impression. Here, the delicacy of Staley’s vocals in “Get Born Again” – substantiated by the vocal take in “Died” on the flip side – perfectly illustrate just how dynamically different the band could sound while still utilizing the same tools to compose a song. With these singles in combination, just how meticulously adept Alice In Chains could be at inspiring different emotional sensations with their music is made perfectly clear.
After having run front-to-back with both of the singles included, there’s little question that longtime Alice In Chains fans will be satisfied with what they’ve heard on this double 7-inch set. Taken together, the two singles exemplify the “rage and grace/beauty and sickness” image for which the band became so revered at the height of their powers. In the simplest terms, this Record Store Day release offers listeners a perfect and brief examination of what Alice In Chains was all about artistically on any day of the week. True, these singles are not the best known in the band’s canon, but they showcase precisely the same heart, soul and sickness as the songs on which they built their name. That’s pretty cool, and fans will know it and appreciate it as soon as they hear it.
The Record Store Day 2017 2 x 7” set was released in a 4000-copy pressing on April 22, 2017. Limited copies may still be available – try your luck at your favourite indie record store now!