Review: Facelift

A recording session for a demo being delayed by a drugs raid, it didn’t stop Columbia Records picking up Seattle-based Alice in Chains. The band would go on to release their debut album titled Facelift in August 1990.

Soundgarden the year previous already provided an entry point for grunge’s access to the mainstream, becoming the genre’s first big-label band. Alice in Chains came next. Despite a top fifty entry on the Billboard 200, initial reaction to Facelift was lukewarm. However second single Man in the Box gained traction through MTV. Giving the band, and genre, the first big release and a wider audience.

That initial lukewarm reception is understandable though. We Die Young pumps out like a heavy metal song, angry, crunching, and imposing. The album broods and drones through its small collection of songs. It is more poignantly illustrated by the time the band picks up the tempo or funks its way through a collage of Jerry Cantrell‘s distorted riffs. Layne Stanley opens Put You Down opens with a yawn on one of the album’s more livelier numbers is the illustrative case and point if ever there was. Whilst Confusion will get a listener yawning, more than once, as its ponderous verses and waling vocals collide with the sharper and rasper vocals in a crescendoing music. It sounds grand yet as metallically pedestrian as the rest.

Man in the Box possessed the atypical identikit for what grunge would become, in the short term. Pearl Jam would achieve enormous success with a far superior and consistent effort over a year later in the album, Ten. Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden would carve different facets but stick to the same basics offered up by Facelift. Whilst it was surprising at the time that MTV decided to give it airtime, the company – at that one time at least – was tuned into upcoming trend. But given the cultural media power the company had, it could have easy just set the trend by putting something different in front of people often enough to gather enough likeminded individuals.

Facelift is an important album in grunge’s history, being the genre’s first mainstream success. It is a largely disjointed affair, especially the second half. At fifty-plus minutes, it outstays the welcome a little uncomfortably too. Alice in Chains would produce more consistent efforts later on, but the first stab saw a heavy metal band wondering off the beaten track into other influences. One of which just happened to be, grunge.

Rating : 6 / 10

Where to buy :

Track Listing :

  1. We Die Young
  2. Man in the Box
  3. Sea of Sorrow
  4. Bleed the Freak
  5. I Can't Remember
  6. Love, Hate, Love
  7. It Ain't Like That
  8. Sunshine
  9. Put You Down
  10. Confusion
  11. I Know Somethin (Bout You)
  12. Real Thing