Most of the folks who carry the torch of the so-called “Seattle Sound” have probably never been to Seattle (at least not before their first U.S. tour). By the same token, bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden eventually became parodies of themselves, while Pearl Jam went off in an entirely different direction. This year will see the debut of solo albums by members of two of these three bands: the long-awaited album by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, and Boggy Depot, the first solo work by Alice in Chains’ guitarist and chief songwriter, Jerry Cantrell, who has written or co-written most of Alice in Chains’ hits — “No Excuses,” “Would?,” “Rooster” — has little to prove by making a solo album. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the man shine in his own realm, where he has complete control over the outcome of his songs.
The 12 tracks on this album are more than Alice in Chains without frontman Layne Staley. But these songs are more mature than Alice, more informed by classic rock ‘n’ roll (Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Kansas, among others), with less of the punk leanings of Cantrell’s ensemble work. What might surprise listeners most is the amount of tenderness in these tunes, from the sultry piano balladry of “Settling Down” to the vulnerability in “Hurt a Long Time.” “Hurt..” offers a glimpse at the wreckage left behind by Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
Cantrell’s folky, wistful guitar riff and wavery tenor set the scene: “He got a gun and gave up the fight.” Few of those close to Cobain have dared be so direct in their recollection of the event and its aftermath, and Cantrell’s version of the story is touching and human. “When I found out/I couldn’t even cry/Well I am now/And I’m tryin’ to figure out why … Oh it’s a bad dream/I’ve got only time.” The song is a must-hear for anyone who loved Cobain and a good example of why Cantrell needed to make a record of his own: no way would Staley have been able to pull off something so plain and true.