The Dinosaurs Knew Better
Seven years after original vocalist Layne Staley’s death in 2002, Alice in Chains regrouped with new vocalist William DuVall and released Black Gives Way to Blue, a formidable rebirth, its acclaim amplified by nostalgia created by fourteen years without new music. DuVall is a suitable replacement for Staley, and the transition didn’t have the added preconceptions of having stemmed from an huge band, like some singers who are already tagged to popular bands. Nor did DuVall win a contest or stem from a tribute band. He just happens to emulate Staley enough to pull off the band’s catalog. In fact, DuVall sounds like Staley would have today if he cleaned up and straightened out: similar tone, but with less edge. With The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, Jerry Cantrell & co. needed to show the world that AIC has moved onward and upward, no longer living in the past and ready to continue building its legacy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to the past.
Dinosaurs begins with “Hollow,” an oddly-timed throwback featuring the vocal tandem of DuVall-as-Staley and Cantrell, a growling riff, and some extra cool effects thrown in. It’s refreshing and encouraging until the second and third songs are done and you feel like you just heard the same song three times. The next track, “Voices,” changes to a lighter sound, but rather than provide a welcome change, it betrays the weaknesses in DuVall’s talents. His voice comes across as harshly and forceably nasal, and the difference between him and Staley becomes obvious: Staley could not help being himself while DuVall has not quite mastered his own tone.
Cantrell pulls his vocals back from the next few songs, including the musically rich title track, like a parent allowing a child the freedom to roam around the backyard alone. As the compositions become more interesting, like the adventurous “Breath on a Window,” the vocals grow more tiresome. DuVall manages to tone it down for the country-esque “Scalpel,” and once it hits its stride with typical AIC harmonies and bends, it proves to be one of the strongest numbers on Dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs works best when the songs emulate the classic AIC sound. However, not one song is better than any that made the band popular in the ’90s. There is too much repetition and too little innovation for Dinosaurs to be anything but an acceptable, but forgettable, addition to an otherwise impressive career’s worth of albums.