The third solo album by Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell is his best yet: the work of a songwriter who is happy in his life. The music within Brighten is full of AIC archetypes, not least Cantrell’s distinctive vocals, but spans a broad arc of styles… making it all the more remarkable that he appears comfortable in all of them.
Like his two previous solo ventures – Boggy Depot in 1998, and 2002’s Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 – this has been made with AIC on hiatus. But whereas on the predecessors Cantrell seemed content, or even determined, to plough the same heavy/doomy furrow as the band that made him famous, on Brighten (as the title may hint) he appears confident of spreading his wings and lightening up. Credit, then, to Cantrell and his producer, former Marilyn Manson guitarist Tyler Bates.
First track Atone – released as a single back in July – is an up-and-at-’em countryfied rocker with a rolling drumbeat by Gil Sharone and additional guitar by Greg Puciato (both formerly of Dillinger Escape Plan) plus a bassline by Duff McKagan. (Although Cantrell plays bass, too, on some of the nine tracks here.) Atone would work on an Alice In Chains album, but it would stand out as something different.
That description could apply to half of the eight new songs herein, but each one brings something fresh. Unexpected, even. For example, the title track is just a little more “up”, thanks to the neat addition of piano, while Had To Know has a soaring guitar solo, but employs what sounds like a Hammond organ to at least as great an effect. And Dismembered, meanwhile, despite that title, swaggers by in upbeat mood.
Some apples, though, roll strikingly further from the AIC tree. Prism Of Doubt features (subtle) pedal steel and a melody that Tom Petty might have conjured. Black Hearts And Evil Done isn’t a million miles away from a George Harrison solo track. Likewise, Siren Song is a mournful ballad – but with castanets! – while the busy Nobody Breaks You is an uplifting ensemble piece.
Brighten then draws to a memorable close with an extremely faithful cover of Elton John’s Goodbye – Madman Across The Water’s final song – underlining the mutual admiration which was begun by Elton playing on Black Gives Way To Blue back in 2009. Alice In Chains fans should prepare to love this, but expect more echoes of Jar Of Flies than of Dirt...