Some will argue that Nirvana put out the best Unplugged album. It was pretty damn good, but I think AIC is just better in a lot of respects. Really, you can look at both the albums in the same way. Each is a lasting, haunting legacy of two talented musicians whose lives went to waste.
There’s something about these Unplugged sessions that is unlike any other live effort by a band. It’s personal. Intimate. And you can hear how different it seems for the musicians, too. The lack of that vibrance and energy that comes with being plugged in is replaced with a solemn kind of emotion. It’s raw. Stripped down. You get to see and hear the bare bones of a song. Sometimes that’s a beautiful thing. And sometimes it’s unnerving.
A lot of people think Layne Staley sounds bad on this album, that his voice is cracked and old and worn. Well, the band hadn’t played live in about three years, so I cut the guy a break. Personally, I think he sounds great. How he looked at this show, though, that’s another story. And that, I think, is what makes Unplugged stick out. Watching him sing, looking at his face and knowing the end of the story. He looked beaten and halfway to dead. You knew. Well hell, everyone knew from a long time before that he’d die a junkie death, but looking at him that night, you just knew it was all winding down. It took about six years after that for his way of life to finally take it’s toll, but any AIC fan who watched the show that night saw the end of Staley right then.
The playlist is the heart of AIC. The songs here are all laid out like raw meat. Cooking in reverse, kind of. Knowing what a steak looks and tastes and smells like when it comes out of the kitchen and then looking at a slab of meat and thinking, that’s what I just ate. Does that make any sense? It makes sense in my head. Maybe I’m hungry, I don’t know. But anyhow. You take a song like Angry Chair and throw it out there unplugged and you think that just can’t work, but it does. It works so well. It gives you a new appreciation of the song and of the musicianship of the band.Like most Alice in Chains albums, it's great musically, but depressing as hell.