Vinyl Review: Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (Limited Picture Disc Edition)
When Alice In Chains reformed in 2008 with new lead singer William DuVall, it was a move that shocked, and even angered many of their fans. But much of that discontent was quelled when the album by the newly reformed group, Black Gives Way To Blue, ended up being pretty good; a welcome addition to the Alice In Chains discography that updated their sound in way that wasn’t embarrassing.
Now they’re back again with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, and while it is also a solid entry into the Alice In Chains cannon that should appease both old fans and newcomers to the legendary grunge rockers, it’s still hard to recommend simply from a technical standpoint.
At this stage in their careers, reviewing an Alice In Chains album for its music is nearly a moot point. Guess what: the record sounds like an Alice In Chains record, it’s dark, heavier than shit, and dripping in guitar-laden sludge. If anything, the album is a step backwards from Black Gives Way To Blue, which had a slightly more poppy and lighter sound, featuring songs like “Check My Brain,” downright happy numbers compared to some of the band’s earlier work.
No such thing here, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is a dark, downer record with dark, downer songs like “Hollow,” “Stone,” “Choke” and “Scalpel.” It’s a return to the bleak and the sorrowful, and it sounds like something straight out of 1992. Not that that’s a bad thing. After all, there aren’t many bands who sound like Alice In Chains (who aren’t godawful horrible), so if they want to keep working on iterations of the same sound over and over again, I’m okay with that, and I suspect many of their fans will be as well. And at least the group mixes things up lyrically, they even travel into political commentary with with the title track, a great dig at homophobic fundamentalists.
What fans should not be happy with, however, is how the album actually sounds.
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, much like Black Gives Way To Blue (and just about every other album released these days) is too loud. It’s compressed, the “lows” really aren’t low, they’re raised in the mix to be the same volume as the highs. This makes the album easier to hear in your car or at a bar, but if you’re trying to listen to it on headphones or even on speakers in an otherwise quiet room, it’s nearly unbearable. And if you crank it up too loud it just starts to sound like noise with audible clipping and distortion.
This is why I tend to buy vinyl and record a rip of that instead. Because while engineers and producers love to make CDs unbearably loud (because they’re stupid, bad people), it’s actually impossible to make a vinyl record as loud and compressed. The grooves can’t be cut deep enough to accommodate for that much noise. It’s a rare case where the limitations of a format actually benefit it, where less truly is more.
Sadly, no “regular” edition of the album exists on vinyl. To buy the record on LP, I had to fork over $60 for a “special limited edition” version that came on two picture discs. And guess what? Picture discs sound like shit.
There are exceptions to that rule, but more often than not, the process of putting a picture on the face of a vinyl record makes it sound noticeably worse, adding so much surface noise that the record ends up sounding like it was recorded in a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, and that’s the case here. It’s unlistenable. The vinyl does come with a digital download, but that download is just a rip of the CD version, so it sounds just as bad as the regular digital version.
And for $60, the deluxe edition sure feels like a rip-off. In addition to only getting the album on sub-standard picture discs, the sleeve is made of flimsy transparent plastic. I get that this was done to show off the picture discs, but doing so at the expense of durability (whenever I hold the packaging I feel like it’s going to fall apart in my hands) isn’t a fair trade.
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is a very good album full of great songs, it’s jut a shame that there’s no good way to hear them. The CD and MP3 versions are listenable, if frustrating. But if you want a good vinyl copy, I suggest holding out for a hopeful standard release.