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Alice In Chains, Jar of Flies 30th Anniversary Edition from Sony/Legacy

03-25-2024 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 132

Sony Music Entertainment, Columbia Records, and Legacy Recordings have just reissued Alice In Chains' classic 1994 EP Jar of Flies in a 30th Anniversary special edition. Jar of Flies, despite only being an EP, was one of Alice In Chains most important releases, and included several of their biggest hits from the 1990s. The EP debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, becoming not only the band's first ever record to reach the top of the charts, but also the first EP by any band to achieve that distinction. Jar of Flies also included Alice in Chains' only single to ever top the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts, "No Excuses." The EP was wildly popular with the band's fan base, reaching 2x Platinum sales in the year of its release, and has gone on to go 4x Platinum in the years since. Jar of Flies' mainstream success was even more impressive considering the band chose to forego their usual, heavier grunge/metal approach to produce an album that was strongly acoustic in nature.  

Jar of Flies 30th Anniversary Edition is being made available in multiple formats, including an insane Limited Edition Box Set that's housed in a screen printed, UV coated shadow box with 3D lenticular artwork. The box includes a touch-activated, LED-lighted, embossed logo jar with faux flies; a tri-color vinyl LP; a 60-page hardcover book; and a 24" x 24" double-sided poster. Collectors and completists will definitely want to grab that one! Additionally, a cassette version is also being made available, along with limited-edition, tri-color colored vinyl LPs, and a clear vinyl LP variant that has "flies" embedded in the vinyl. And for the masses, there's a standard-weight, black vinyl LP version. The Limited Edition version and color variant LPs, along with a selection of band and Jar of Flies oriented merchandise are available exclusively on the Alice In Chains web store, and can be ordered HERE. The standard black vinyl LP can be ordered HERE, and the link also features multiple online streaming options for digital versions of Jar of Flies. The standard-weight, black vinyl LP can also be found at your local independent record store, as well as through many online retailers.

Alice In Chains, Jar of Flies 30th Anniversary EP. 180 Gram LP, $22.99 MSRP

In the aftermath of the exhaustive but hugely successful world tour in support of the band's second studio album Dirt, Alice in Chains retreated to Seattle's London Bridge Studios in September 1993. At that point the band consisted of original members Layne Staley on lead vocals, Jerry Cantrell on guitars and lead vocals, and drummer Sean Kinney. Their newest member, bassist Mike Inez, had joined the band during the Dirt tour, and convened with the other members at London Bridge for the first time in a studio setting. According to vocalist Layne Staley, the band "just wanted to go into the studio for a few days with our acoustic guitars and see what happened." Drummer Sean Kinney echoed those sentiments in an interview in Guitar World, where he stated: "After playing loud music for a year, we'd come home and the last thing we wanted to do was crank up the amps right away…We just went into the studio with no songs written, to check out the chemistry. It all fell into place…We thought it would be a waste not to put that material out."

Jar of Flies featured only seven tracks; Layne Staley wrote four of the songs, with Jerry Cantrell contributing two others, and the seventh tune, "Whale & Wasp" was an instrumental. Both Staley and Cantrell respectively sang lead vocals on their own songs. The EP's lead single, Jerry Cantrell's "No Excuses," became Alice in Chains' only record to reach the number one position on the Billboard Mainstream charts. Layne Staley wrote the EP's second single, "I Stay Away," while Cantrell also contributed the third single from Jar of Flies, "Don't Follow." Jar of Flies was recorded and mixed by Toby Wright over a period of seven days in September 1993, and the EP was self-produced by Alice in Chains. Wright was instructed by Layne Staley not to use ProTools during the recordings to give the EP a more natural sound, and both Staley and Cantrell were deeply involved with microphone placements to get the kind of guitar sounds they were looking for. Jar of Flies' sales were driven not only by the success of the singles, but also by the band's ability to entice listeners with songs that crossed multiple alternative genres.

For an album that was intended to have a mostly acoustic feel, Jar of Flies has a very electric vibe. Side one opens with three Layne Staley compositions, and kicks off with "Rotten Apple." Which features an ominous double-tracked bass and guitar figure that's overlaid with an even spookier vocoder intro; Staley's multi-tracked vocal is eerily effective, and this song really grabs you from its outset. An acoustic guitar vamp gives "Nutshell" a rather restrained feel, before Jerry Cantrell's electric lead guitar shreds for much of the remaining two-and-a-half minutes, and yes—Jar of Flies does have electric guitars! "I Stay Away" has a more acoustic feel, and also features a quartet of strings; as the album's second single, it reached number ten on the Billboard charts. Jerry Cantrell's "No Excuses" was the EP's big hit, and propelled the band to previously unseen commercial success. It also has a more electric feel, and Cantrell's superb lead guitar work along with Sean Kinney's propulsive drumming drives the song.

Side two begins with the EP's only instrumental, "Whale & Wasp," which features an eerily cool multi-tracked electric guitar figure from Cantrell with backing from the string section—it makes for a really enjoyable interlude, and provides one of Jar of Flies' most entertaining highlights. Cantrell's "Don't Follow" was the EP's third and least successful single; it's a much more laidback and acoustically-oriented number with a bluesy and effective harmonica accompaniment across the song's central section. Jar of Flies closes with "Swing On This," which intertwines acoustic and electric guitars with an acerbic vocal from Lane Staley that twangs as Cantrell bends notes on his electric guitar, which he then finger picks to the song's—and the EP's—conclusion. 

Listening and Impressions

Click on my name in the header and you can see the equipment I used to evaluate Jar of Flies; my LP review copy was played on my mostly-tube, all-analog system, which has recently been upgraded with a new quad of premium Gold Lion power tubes and a vintage, NOS set of Brimar output tubes. The sound is better than ever, and the upgrade was perfect for hearing this exceptionally well-recorded EP. I was supplied with the black vinyl LP version for review, which seemed lighter than 180 gram LPs, but heavier than most standard weight discs. The LP had beautifully glossy surfaces that showed no visible defects, and my playback was noise-free; the sound quality was really superb, and I give a lot of that credit to Layne Staley's choice to avoid ProTools during the recording. The album's outer sleeve featured crisp original artwork sourced from Columbia's extensive vaults, and the printed paper inner sleeve was a perfect facsimile of the original release, featuring all the song lyrics and tech specs for the EP. It's an exceptionally well-executed LP package.

As the album played, I recognized many of the tunes by ear even though the song titles didn't necessarily jump out at me. Jar of Flies was a huge hit in the mid-nineties, and many of the songs other than the singles were in constant rotation on local rock radio stations in Atlanta where I lived at the time. Hearing this EP for the first time in probably twenty years really took me back, and my enjoyment of the music was such that it'll be in regular rotation here for the foreseeable future. It's a great-sounding LP that's so very well-recorded, it jumped from my system; hearing it now was quite literally like hearing it for the very first time way back when!

Jar of Flies, despite only being an EP, was as enjoyable an album as the Layne Staley-era Alice in Chains would ever produce. But even at this point in their career, the specter of Staley's rapidly increasing heroin addiction was already beginning to cast a pall over the band. Although they'd manage to record one more studio LP, 1995's Alice in Chains, all the signs pointed to the end of both the band's first phase and their creative peak. What might have been, but regardless of Layne Staley's untimely death at age 34, the band still soldiers on, with the only change to their lineup being the addition of vocalist William DuVall in 2006.

Many thanks to Maria Malta of Sony/Legacy for her consideration and assistance! While I can't comment on the more exotic iterations of the 30th Anniversary reissue of Jar of Flies—which look completely off the chain, and will be indispensable to Alice in Chains completists—the standard LP comes very highly recommended!

Sony Music Entertainment/Legacy Recordings


All images courtesy of Alice in Chains, Legacy Recordings, and the author