Facelift is the debut studio album by the American rock band Alice in Chains. The album was released on August 21, 1990. The album was certified platinum and has gone on to be certified double-platinum by the RIAA for shipments of two million copies in the United States.
Local promoter Randy Hauser became aware of the band at a concert, and offered to pay for demo recordings. However, one day before the band was due to record at the Music Bank studio in Washington, police shut down the studio during the biggest marijuana raid in the history of the state. The final demo was named The Treehouse Tapes, and found its way to the music managers Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver, who also managed the Seattle-based band Soundgarden. Curtis and Silver passed on the demo to Columbia Records' A&R representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Ienner. Based on The Treehouse Tapes (a 1988 demo tape sold by the band at shows), Ienner signed Alice in Chains to Columbia in 1989.
Alice in Chains soon became a top priority of the label, who released the band's first official recording in July 1990, a promotional EP We Die Young. The EP's lead single, "We Die Young", became a hit on metal radio. After its success, the label rushed Alice in Chains' debut album into production with producer Dave Jerden. Drummer Sean Kinney claims to have played this album with a broken hand:
"I almost didn't play on the record - they started rehearsing with the drummer from Mother Love Bone, Greg Gilmore. I was sitting there playing with one hand, guiding him through it. Dave Jerden came in and they started to try to do it. He was like, 'Screw it - pull the plug. This is not going to be the same.' Luckily, we took a tiny bit of time off. I had that cast on for a while, and was like, 'I can't miss this.' I cut my cast off in the studio and kept a bucket of ice by the drum set. Kept my hand iced down and played with a broken hand. I tried not to do that again - your first big break, and you fuck it up."
Facelift was recorded at London Bridge Studio in Seattle and Capitol Recording Studio in Hollywood from December 1989 to April 1990. Footage from the Facelift sessions can be found on Alice in Chains' Music Bank: The Videos DVD.
Guitarist Jerry Cantrell stated the album was intended to have a "moody aura" that was a "direct result of the brooding atmosphere and feel of Seattle." Regarding the music for "Man in the Box", Cantrell said, "That whole beat and grind of that is when we started to find ourselves; it helped Alice become what it was." Cantrell also credited "I Can't Remember" for helping the band find its sound. "It Ain't Like That" came out of a riff that Cantrell cited as a mistake, however he called it "a cool mistake." Cantrell called "Love, Hate, Love" the "masterpiece of that record," adding about the song that Staley's vocals are "amazing" and that it features one of his favorite guitar solos he ever performed. Regarding the lyrical content, Cantrell said he wrote "We Die Young" after "riding the bus to rehearsal and [seeing] all these 9, 10, 11 year old kids with beepers dealing drugs. The sight of a 10 year old kid with a beeper and a cell phone dealing drugs equaled "We Die Young" to me." In a recorded interview with MuchMusic USA, vocalist Layne Staley stated that the lyrics for "Man in the Box" are about censorship in the mass media, and "I was really stoned when I wrote it." Discussing "Bleed the Freak", Cantrell stated that the lyrics represent "us against the world, those people who put you down." Cantrell wrote "Sunshine" about his mother's death.
Facelift was released on August 21, 1990, peaking at number 42 in the summer of 1991 on the Billboard 200 chart. Facelift included the singles "We Die Young", "Man in the Box", and "Sea of Sorrow", all of which had accompanying music videos. The album was a critical success, with "Hollywood" Steve Huey of AllMusic citing Facelift as "one of the most important records in establishing an audience for grunge and alternative rock among hard rock and heavy metal listeners." It was also the first grunge album to reach the top 50 in America on the Billboard 200, the first to go platinum.
Facelift was not an instant success, selling under 40,000 copies in the first six months of release, until MTV added "Man in the Box" to regular daytime rotation. The single hit number 18 on the Mainstream Rock charts, with the album's follow up single, "Sea of Sorrow", reaching number 27, and in six weeks Facelift sold 400,000 copies in the US. Facelift was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America by the end of 1990. Alice in Chains was nominated for a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy Award in 1992 for "Man in the Box", but lost to Van Halen for their 1991 album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The music video for "Man in the Box" was nominated for Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.
The band continued to hone its audience, opening for such artists as Iggy Pop, Van Halen, Poison, and Extreme. In early 1991, Alice in Chains landed the opening slot for the Clash of the Titans with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer, exposing the band to a wide metal audience. During the tour the band found themselves subject to some hostile audiences, however Anthrax bassist Frank Bello recalls them earning the respect of others by standing up for themselves. "If there was a guy starting shit, Layne would jump into the audience and beat the FUCK outta that guy!", Michael Christopher of PopMatters observed "With 1990's Facelift, before Nirvana blew the scene wide open, Seattle’s Alice in Chains were getting a metal push, thrown on tour with the likes of Slayer and Megadeth, repeatedly booed off stage in a genre where they didn’t belong". The band later released the video compilation Live Facelift, which was filmed at the Moore Theatre in 1990.
All tracks written by Jerry Cantrell, except where noted.
|1.||"We Die Young"||2:32|
|2.||"Man in the Box"||Layne Staley||4:46|
|3.||"Sea of Sorrow"||5:49|
|4.||"Bleed the Freak"||4:01|
|5.||"I Can't Remember"||Staley, Cantrell||3:42|
|6.||"Love, Hate, Love"||Staley||6:26|
|7.||"It Ain't Like That"||Cantrell, Mike Starr, Sean Kinney||4:37|
|9.||"Put You Down"||3:16|
|11.||"I Know Somethin (Bout You)"||4:22|
"Killing Yourself", recorded during the Facelift sessions, was featured as the B-side to the 1990 "We Die Young" vinyl single. It has never been issued on CD.
Demos for the songs "I Can't Have You Blues", "Whatcha Gonna Do", "Social Parasite", "Bleed The Freak", "Sea of Sorrow", and "Killing Yourself" were featured on Alice in Chains' 1988 demo tape. Remixes of these recordings were later included on the band's 1999 box set, Music Bank. A demo of "We Die Young" from the same sessions was released exclusively on the 1999 Nothing Safe: Best of the Box compilation.
Further 1988 demos of the songs "Chemical Addiction", "Fairytale Love Story", "Queen of the Rodeo", "King of the Kats", "I Can't Remember", "Sunshine", "The Real Thing", and "Suffragette City" (a David Bowie cover) circulate on various bootlegs in poor quality. A live version of "Queen of the Rodeo" features on the 2000 live album Live as well as the Music Bank box set. Regarding the songs featured on the 1988 demo tape, Cantrell said, "I guess with all those songs we were 'discovering' ourselves."
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