Whenever people talk about the biggest bands of the grunge era, it always comes down to the quartet known as the “Big Four,” consisting of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. The latter always comes at the end, mostly because they were never quite as good nor as culturally transcendent as the other bands on that list. However, in many ways, Alice in Chains defined that era better than anybody, as they combined the thick sludge of Sabbath-inspired metal and crossed it with a freewheeling sense of fun that left room for punk explorations, noise jams and acoustic experiments alike. On this day in 1994, Alice in Chains released one of the key collections of the era in the Jar of Flies EP.
Alice in Chains were already cresting on a huge wave of success thanks to their breakthrough 1992 album Dirt, perhaps the greatest album about addiction ever written (even the songs that aren’t explicitly about heroin, like the post-traumatic stress anthem “Rooster,” still seem to be about an obsession with smack). Dirt was an exceptionally loud, punishing collection of tunes that still managed to pack in big hits (especially on the singles “Would?” and “Them Bones”). Following the 1993 Lollapalooza tour, the band decided to jam on some acoustic instruments in a studio for a few days as an experiment (the finished product was never meant to be released). The band’s label liked the results and put together the seven song EP, which ended up becoming the first EP to ever sit on top of the Billboard album chart.
Jar of Flies ditched the feedback and sludge of Dirt but retained Alice in Chains’ way with melody and its haunting sense of askew beauty. Without the crutch of the volume, the band was able to spread themselves out and experiment a bit more (which continued with their self-titled 1995 album), and there was plenty of strife, as the EP’s breakout single “No Excuses” — perhaps the breeziest song the band ever recorded — was about the rocky relationship between the group’s co-leaders Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley.