The best Alice In Chains album is an EP, technically. Which is splitting hairs. But it’s worthy of a revisit no matter how it’s classified.


EP, you see, stands for “extended play.” As Wikipedia points out, there’s not a strict definition of an EP. But it’s generally accepted that an EP is shorter than an LP, which stands for “long play,” or what we consider to be a full-length album. So, more than a single, but less than an album. Typically four to six tracks–but no more than nine–and a playing time of less than thirty minutes. Give or take.


Released on January 25, 1994, Jar of Flies from Alice In Chains contains seven songs and clocks in at just over thirty minutes. That makes Jar of Flies an EP, officially. What places the EP slightly ahead of the greatest AIC LP–1992’s Dirt–to make it the greatest release in the band’s entire catalog? Allow me to plead my case and also provide some all-important context.


The Best Alice In Chains Album Isn’t Even An Album

Alice In Chains fired the first big shot out of the Seattle grunge scene with their 1990 debut Facelift. Sure, Nirvana debuted a year before them. And Soundgarden already had a pair of albums to their name. But those releases didn’t get as much mainstream attention as Facelift did. That strong debut, plus the Seattle grunge explosion of ’91, put AIC in a prime position to capitalize with Dirt in ’92.


And capitalize they did. Add Pearl Jam to the mix and you had the Seattle Grunge Big Four that ruled MTV, radio, and the touring circuit in the early ’90s. By the mid ’90s, you saw these bands trying to differentiate themselves from one another and the other big acts from outside Seattle. Nirvana pulled the plug for an MTV special. Alice In Chains did the same, but in the studio first.


There was precedent for a mostly-acoustic release: 1992’s Sap EP, which came to AIC drummer Sean Kinney in a dream. After a year of touring behind Dirt, the band was keen to embrace the softer sound palate they worked with on Sap. Jar of Flies was recorded in a week. It was the first EP in history to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. It received two Grammy noms and has gone quadruple-platinum.


Those stats alone are enough to give it top billing in the Alice In Chains discography. But the real reason it’s No. 1 is because the EP encapsulates every facet of what makes AIC so great. There are light moments to balance out the darkness. There are riffs aplenty, some of the best rhythm section work the band ever did, and their signature harmonies are on display in a stripped-down way that makes them all the more beautiful.


The band gets points for their risk-taking, too. You could make the argument that, in comparison to their Seattle peers, Alice In Chains is the band that gained the most from turning the volume up loud and leaning into the shadows. With Jar of Flies, they dialed back both the loudness and the darkness while still creating something emotional and memorable. That’s what makes it great.

So let’s listen to it again, together.

  • "Rotten Apple"

    I remember skipping out of school during lunch, driving to the Strawberries on Rt. 1 in Saugus, buying Jar of Flies on CD, and immediately popping it in on the way back to school. The opening riff of the opening track gave me jaw-dropping chills. And it still does, 30 years on.

  • "Nutshell"

    If you were to rank every song in the Alice In Chains catalog, this might be the one that lands on top. Simple, heartbreakingly beautiful, timeless. I play this one with my dad and my brother often.

  • "No Excuses"

    Sean Kinney’s opening stick work on this song gave me a deeper appreciation for what he brings to the table in the band. So much so that I actually went back to the previous three AIC releases to really focus in on his drumming. He’s underrated!

  • "I Stay Away"

    Alice In Chains? With a string section? And a Claymation music video? And it all works!?

  • "Whale & Wasp"

    Imagine having the balls to a) follow up your breakthrough album with an acoustic EP and b) make one of the songs an instrumental. And it works so damn well. “It’s a mood,” as the kids these days say.

  • "Don't Follow"

    A proper blues ballad on the tail end of an Alice In Chains release. And again, it friggin’ works. Are you starting to understand now why I hold this EP in such high esteem and think that you should, too?

  • "Swing On This"

    Building off the momentum of the hidden track on the Sap EP, things get silly on the tail end of Jar of Flies. I wonder if this is what inspired Stone Temple Pilots to hide “12 Gracious Melodies” at the end of Purple?

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