What more is there to say? Alice in Chains' 1992 sophomore album, Dirt, is a generational magnum opus, one of the greatest albums in the grunge canon, and a Nineties hard-rock high point with a sound and style that's still reverberating throughout the heavy-music scene today. If you've somehow never heard this masterpiece, then go change that immediately.
For the heads who've been sinking their teeth into Dirt's exquisite composite of beauty and agony, power and pain, for their whole lives, we wanted to know which of the album's 13 songs they deem the holiest of the holy. The responses were passionate, and the top five vote-getters are ranked accordingly below.
"Rooster" is somewhat of an outlier on Dirt for two reasons. 1) It's the longest song on the record, and 2) unlike the many autobiographical lyrics Cantrell penned, this one is about the singer-guitarist's father who served in the Vietnam war but was always reticent to talk about his experiences. Akin to the power ballads Cantrell's Pantera pals were writing in the same era, "Rooster" is deceptively heavy affair, with distorted detonations leaping out the slow-burning verses. Powerful stuff.
"Them Bones" may not be the most harrowing or most musically epic song on Dirt, but it's definitely the gnarliest. The album's opening salvo is a mercilessly churning storm of metallized riffage, distressed "ah!"'s and chugging drums — played with an attack that's dangerous enough to uproot an oak tree and send it flying across town. For a record as emotionally turbulent as Dirt, this frenzied banger sets the mood perfectly.
On albums as long as Dirt, closing tracks can sometimes be half-assed throwaways that bands stuff in the back as little more than filler —but not "Would?" Alice in Chains chose to end this record with one of its spryest cuts, a bass-driven groover that, in typical AIC fashion, is imbued with an unsettling air that something's gone awry. In this case, it's an ode to their late Seattle comrade, Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood (Wood and "Would?," get it?), who OD'd on heroin a couple years earlier.
It's not hard to write a sad song, but it takes the lightning-in-a-bottle talent that Alice in Chains harnessed on Dirt to write a song like "Down in a Hole." This is a track that's not only lyrically evocative of the lovelorn pain Cantrell was enduring, but sounds and feels like those trying times. Staley's wails are a vivid personification of a yearning heart's intangible sting, and the weepy guitars only emphasize the desperation.
We're not gonna argue with this one: "Rain When I Die" is the most fully realized piece of musical brilliance on Dirt. The third track begins with a dizzying jam that Staley's caws and Cantrell's delirious wah-wah lick come crawling out from under, building into woozy verses of bad-trip psychedelia that snap into hot-blooded sobriety when Staley's momentous belt delivers the massive hook. Heavy rock music doesn't get much better than this.