Dirt (Alice in Chains album)

This page was last edited on 13 January 2018, at 08:59.

Dirt is the second studio album by the American rock band Alice in Chains, released on September 29, 1992, through Columbia Records. Peaking at number six on the Billboard 200, the album was also well received by music critics. It has since been certified four-times platinum by the RIAA and gone on to sell five million copies worldwide, making Dirt the band's highest selling album to date. It is the band's last album recorded with all four original members, as bassist Mike Starr was terminated from the band in January 1993.[3][4]

The album spawned five singles: "Would?", "Them Bones", "Angry Chair", "Rooster", and "Down in a Hole"; all with accompanying music videos. The songs on the album focused on depression, pain, anger, anti-social behavior, drug addiction (primarily heroin), war, death, and other emotionally charged topics. Rolling Stone listed the album at No. 26 on its list of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time.[5]

Dirt (Alice in Chains album - cover art)
Studio album by Alice in Chains
Released September 29, 1992
Recorded March–May 1992
Studio Eldorado Recording Studios in Burbank; London Bridge Studio in Seattle; One on One Recording Studios in Los Angeles
Length 57:37
Label Columbia
Producer Dave Jerden, Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains chronology
Jar of Flies
Singles from Dirt
  1. "Would?"
    Released: June 30, 1992
  2. "Them Bones"
    Released: September 8, 1992
  3. "Angry Chair"
    Released: December 6, 1992
  4. "Rooster"
    Released: March 15, 1993
  5. "Down in a Hole"
    Released: August 30, 1993

Background and recording

The recording of Dirt began in the spring of 1992. Producer Dave Jerden, who had previously worked with the band on their debut, Facelift, wanted to work with them again. He admired vocalist Layne Staley's lyrics and voice, and lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell's guitar riffs. The track "Would?" produced, engineered and mixed by Rick Parashar, was recorded before the album, and first appeared on the soundtrack to the 1992 movie Singles. Dirt was recorded at Eldorado Recording Studio in Burbank, California, London Bridge Studio in Seattle, and One on One Studios in Los Angeles from March to May 1992.

When recording the album, Staley had previously checked out of rehab in Portland, Oregon and quickly went back to using heroin. Drummer Sean Kinney said in a 2005 interview that Staley had told Kinney that he was high on heroin and marijuana during the recordings of "Down in a Hole" and "Angry Chair" as well as taking oxycodone for back pain. Cantrell had also agreed with Kinney's report, saying that Staley, Jerden and the rest of the band would smoke marijuana in the studio room, even saying that Staley would shoot heroin in front of everyone. Jerden later said that he was told Staley felt animosity toward him dating back to the Dirt sessions due to Jerden repeatedly recommending to Staley that he get sober at the time.[6] Jerden said, "Apparently he got all mad at me [during the Dirt sessions] ... And what's my job as a producer? To produce a record. I'm not getting paid to be Layne's friend."[6]

Staley was not the only one who went through heavy drug use; Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr were also struggling with alcohol addiction. Cantrell was also going through severe clinical depression from the deaths of his mother and his friend, Andrew Wood, and used Xanax, an anxiety medication prescribed by his doctor to ease his depression as well as his heavy drinking on tour. "I was going through a tough time, everyone was, but that's what made the album stronger and more intense, I look back on that period of time as the longest four years of sex, drugs and alcohol we all went through," Cantrell said in a 2007 interview with The Seattle Times.

Music and lyrics

"Would?" (1992)
A sample of "Would?" from Dirt. The song originally appeared on the soundtrack to the film Singles. "Would?" is one of Alice in Chains' signature songs, appearing at nearly every concert the band has performed since its release.

With songs written primarily on the road, the material has an overall darker feel than Facelift.[7] "We did a lot of soul searching on this album. There's a lot of intense feelings."[7] Cantrell said, "We deal with our daily demons through music. All of the poison that builds up during the day we cleanse when we play".[8] Drug use was front and center as a lyrical theme on the album. Three tracks (Sickman, Junkhead & God Smack) specifically reference heroin use and its effects.

Staley later expressed regret about the lyrical content of some songs on Dirt, explaining, "I wrote about drugs, and I didn't think I was being unsafe or careless by writing about them ... I didn't want my fans to think that heroin was cool. But then I've had fans come up to me and give me the thumbs up, telling me they're high. That's exactly what I didn't want to happen."[9]

Cantrell said in 2013: "That darkness was always part of the band, but it wasn’t all about that. There was always an optimism, even in the darkest shit we wrote. With Dirt, it’s not like we were saying ‘Oh yeah, this is a good thing.’ It was more of a warning than anything else, rather than ‘Hey, come and check this out, it’s great!’ We were talking about what was going on at the time, but within that there was always a survivor element – a kind of triumph over the darker elements of being a human being. I still think we have all of that intact, but maybe the percentage has shifted."[10]

Cantrell told RIP magazine in 1993 that not all of the lyrics have drug reference:

I think "Sickman" is not that bad. I thought most of the hassle would come from "Junkhead" and "Godsmack". Those songs are put in sequence on the second side those five songs from "Junkhead" to "Angry Chair" for a reason: Because it tells a story. It starts out with a really young naive attitude with "Junkhead", like drugs are great, sex is great, rock'n' roll, yeah! Then, as it progresses, there's a little bit of growing up and a little bit of a realization of what it's about, and that ain't what it's about. I've been using this phrase a lot, but it makes a lot of sense: It's really easy to die; it's really hard to live. It takes a lot of guts to live. It doesn't take a lot of guts to die. Those five and "Sickman" are the only ones talking about that type of mentality [drugs]. The rest of the stuff is not like that at all. "Rain When I Die" is a song to a girl. There's a lot of stuff on it. A good portion of it is a story, and it's meant to be that way. It's kind of overwhelming and unpleasant at times, unsettling maybe, but that's why all those songs are together. Even if it's disturbing, it's not something anybody else needs to worry about or the way somebody else needs to live their life.[11]

On the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set collection, Cantrell cited "Junkhead" and "God Smack" as "the most openly honest" songs about drug use.[12]

Cantrell said he wrote "Them Bones" about "mortality, that one of these days we'll end up a pile of bones."[12] He told RIP magazine in 1993: "'Them Bones' is pretty cut and dried. It's a little sarcastic, but it's pretty much about dealing with your mortality and life. Everybody's going to die someday. Instead of being afraid of it, that's the way it is: so enjoy the time you've got. Live as much as you can, have as much fun as possible. Face your fear and live. I had family members die at a fairly early age; so I've always had kind of a phobia about it. Death freaks me out. I think it freaks a lot of people out. It's the end of life, depending on your views. It's a pretty scary thing. "Them Bones" is trying to put that thought to rest. Use what you have left, and use it well."[11]

Cantrell was inspired to write "Dam That River" after a fight he had with Sean Kinney, in which Kinney broke a coffee table over his head.[11][12]

"Rain When I Die" is a song to a girl, according to Cantrell.[11] "Sickman" came together after Staley asked Cantrell to "write him the sickest tune, the sickest, darkest, most fucked up and heaviest thing [Cantrell] could write."[12]

"Rooster" was written by Cantrell for his father, who served in the Vietnam War. His nickname was "Rooster".[12] Cantrell described the song as "the start of the healing process between my Dad and I from all that damage that Vietnam caused."[12]

Discussing the title track "Dirt", Cantrell stated that "the words Layne put to it were so heavy, I've never given him something and not thought it was gonna be the most bad-assed thing I was going to hear."[12]

The 43-second "Iron Gland" was developed out of a guitar riff that Cantrell would play that annoyed the other band members, so he created the song (adding in a reference to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man") and promised to never play the guitar riff again,[12] although the track is played as intro music in concert.[13] It features Tom Araya of thrash metal band Slayer on vocals, as well as Layne Staley. "Hate to Feel" and "Angry Chair" were both composed solely by Staley, and Cantrell has expressed his pride in seeing Staley grow as a songwriter and guitarist.[12]

"Down in a Hole" was written by Cantrell to his long-time girlfriend. Cantrell explained the song on the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set: "["Down in a Hole"]'s in my top three, personally. It's to my long-time love. It's the reality of my life, the path I've chosen and in a weird way it kind of foretold where we are right now. It's hard for us to both understand...that this life is not conducive to much success with long-term relationships."[12]

The album's final track, "Would?", was written by Cantrell and concerns the late lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood.[14] Cantrell said the song is also "directed towards people who pass judgments."[12]


The album's cover art features a woman half buried on a cracked desert. The cover was photographed by Rocky Schenck. For many years, fans believed that the model on the cover was Layne Staley's then-girlfriend, Demri Parrot, but Schneck revealed to Revolver Magazine in 2010 that the girl was actually model/actress Mariah O'Brien, with whom he had previously worked on the Spinal Tap single cover of "Bitch School".[15] The magazine also published behind the scenes photos from the shoot featuring O’Brien.[15] Schneck told Revolver Magazine:

Everyone always asks if that is Demri Parrott on the “Dirt” Cover. I think Demri’s name might have been mentioned as a possible model once or twice, but it was never a serious consideration.[15]

After the eight hour photo session, O’Brien went to the bathroom and left her wig embedded in the dirt. Schenck snapped a few photos, which were later used for the 1999 box set Music Bank.[15]

The cover was referenced on the music video for Alice in Chains' 2009 single "A Looking in View". At the 6:55 mark of the video, a woman is seen lying on a cracked desert floor similarly to Dirt's cover.[16]

Release and critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[17]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[18]
Christgau's Consumer Guide B[19]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[20]
Entertainment Weekly A[21]
Kerrang! 5/5[22]
Q 4/5 stars[23]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4.5/5 stars[24]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 7/10[25]
Vox 8/10[26]

This was the band's breakthrough album. Upon its release in September 1992, Dirt peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and went on until its 106th week, ending at number 194.[27] Dirt was released on the same day as another important album of the grunge era, Core by Stone Temple Pilots. Dirt granted Alice in Chains international recognition, and the album was certified four times platinum status in the United States,[28] platinum status in Canada and gold status in the UK.[29][30] The album had sold 3,358,000 copies in the United States as of 2008.[31]

Dirt received critical acclaim, and is considered by critics and fans alike as the group's best album. In a retrospective review, Steve Huey of AllMusic said "Dirt is Alice in Chains' major artistic statement and the closest they ever came to recording a flat-out masterpiece. It's a primal, sickening howl from the depths of Layne Staley's heroin addiction, and one of the most harrowing concept albums ever recorded. Not every song on Dirt is explicitly about heroin, but Jerry Cantrell's solo-written contributions (nearly half the album) effectively maintain the thematic coherence—nearly every song is imbued with the morbidity, self-disgust, and/or resignation of a self-aware yet powerless addict."[17] Michael Christopher of PopMatters praised the album saying "the record wasn't celebratory by any means -- but you'll be hard pressed to find a more brutally truthful work laid down -- and that's why it will always be one of the greatest records ever made."[32] Chris Gill of Guitar World called Dirt "huge and foreboding, yet eerie and intimate," and "sublimely dark and brutally honest."[33] Don Kaye of Kerrang! described Dirt as "brutally truthful and a fiercely rocking testimonial to human endurance".[22] It was voted "Kerrang! Critic's Choice Album of the Year" for 1992.[34]

In 2011, Joe Robinson of Loudwire named Dirt as one of the best metal albums of the 1990s, alongside other albums such as Megadeth's Rust in Peace and Tool's Ænima, writing "In the battle between metal and grunge, Alice in Chains are a rare band that is embraced by fans of both genres. The most metal of the Seattle bands, they were marketed as metal for 1990's 'Facelift,' then touted as grunge for 1992's 'Dirt.' The band members themselves didn't bother much with labels, they just churned out some of the finest alt-metal with classics like 'Would?,' 'Rooster' and 'Them Bones' leading their charge all the way to the headlining spot on Lollapalooza '93."[1]

Dirt is often considered as one of the most influential albums to the sludge metal subgenre, which fuses doom metal with hardcore punk.[32][35]

Dirt included the singles "Would?", "Them Bones", "Angry Chair", "Rooster", and "Down in a Hole", all of which had accompanying music videos. Dirt spawned five top 30 singles, including "Rooster", "Them Bones", and "Down in a Hole", and remained on the charts for nearly a year.[36][37] At the 1993 Grammy Awards, Dirt received a nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance.[38] The band also contributed the song "Would?" to the soundtrack for the 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles, whose video received an award for Best Video from a Film at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.[39] Dirt was named 5th best album in the last two decades by Close-Up magazine.[40] Dirt was also included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[41] In October 2011, the album was ranked number one on Guitar World magazine's top ten list of guitar albums of 1992, with The Offspring's Ignition in second place and Bad Religion's Generator in third place.[42]


Staley playing with Alice in Chains in Boston in 1992.

Alice in Chains was added as openers to Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tours tour. Mere days before the tour began, Layne Staley broke his foot in an ATV accident, forcing him to use crutches on stage.[33] While on tour, Starr was kicked out of the band and was replaced by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Mike Inez.[43]

During the summer of 1993, Alice in Chains joined Primus, Tool, Rage Against the Machine and Babes in Toyland for the alternative music festival Lollapalooza, which was the last major tour Alice in Chains played with Staley.[44]

Track listing

All music composed by Jerry Cantrell, except where noted.[45]

No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Them Bones" Jerry Cantrell   2:30
2. "Dam That River" Cantrell   3:09
3. "Rain When I Die" Layne Staley Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Starr 6:01
4. "Sickman" Staley   5:29
5. "Rooster" Cantrell   6:15
6. "Junkhead" Staley   5:09
7. "Dirt" Staley   5:16
8. "God Smack" Staley   3:56
9. "Iron Gland" (unlisted on the album track list.) Tom Araya   0:43
10. "Hate to Feel" Staley Staley 5:15
11. "Angry Chair" Staley Staley 4:48
12. "Down in a Hole" Cantrell   5:38
13. "Would?" Cantrell   3:28
Total length: 57:37

^ I On the Australian, European, and later U.S. and Canadian versions of the CD, "Down in a Hole" is located between "Rain When I Die" and "Sickman". On earlier U.S. and Canadian pressings, it is placed between "Angry Chair" and "Would?"[45]

^ II Track 9, "Iron Gland", appears without a title on the album. The title appeared on Nothing Safe and Music Bank. The iTunes Store lists it incorrectly as "Iron Man". Before the name "Iron Gland" was revealed, it was labeled in some online databases as "Intro (Dream Sequence)". On editions in which "Down in a Hole" is track 4, "Iron Gland" is track 10. The track was removed on some editions. Some editions may merge the track with "Hate to Feel"[45]

^ III On the back cover of the edition in which "Iron Gland" is track 9, "Hate to Feel", "Angry Chair", "Down in a Hole" and "Would?" are listed from 9–12. However, when the CD is played, the songs are on tracks 10–13.


The songs "Fear the Voices" and "Lying Season" were featured on Alice in Chains' 1991 demo tape that featured songs from Sap and Dirt.[12] Both of these songs were later included on the band's 1999 box set, Music Bank. "Fear the Voices" was released as a single in 1999 to promote Music Bank and became a radio hit that same year. Regarding the two songs, Cantrell said that they came from a time when the band was still developing its sound.[12]


Alice in Chains
Additional performance
Technical personnel


Album charts

Charts (1992–1993) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[46] 13
Canada (RPM)[47] 25
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[48] 17
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[49] 37
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[50] 36
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[51] 15
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[52] 11
UK Albums (OCC)[53] 42
US Billboard 200[54] 6

Singles charts

Year Single Peak


1992 "Would?" 31 17 33 19
"Them Bones" 24 30 22 26
1993 "Angry Chair" 34 27 28 33
"Rooster" 7
"Down in a Hole" 10 29 36
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that country.


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[61] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[62] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[63] 4× Platinum 4,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


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