Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
There would be little disagreement amongst Rock fans with the statement that Alice in Chains were one of the best and most influential of all the bands within the short-lived but monumentally huge Grunge period in the 1990s.
Their sense of power, melody and dynamics, coupled with a stellar band chemistry gave their albums that sense of something extra special that have marked out the true greats of Rock over the decades.
After Alice in Chains’ disbanded in 1996, guitarist Jerry Cantrell released two solo albums, Boggy Depot in 1998 and Degradation Trip in 2002. Now, 19 years after that second solo album, he has just released Brighten and proves that he has lost none of the songwriting and performance chops that he demonstrated so ably in Alice in Chains and in his previous solo works.
Brighten opens with a piece of steamy, swampy blues-influenced melancholy in the form of ‘Atone’. This dark, sprawling mid-paced track evokes the ghosts of Grunge gone by in the chorus melodies but is so much more than simply a revisit to that era of Rock History. Darkly and spookily melodic, it moves through a variety of moods, but never loses the darkly foreboding vibe that kicks in with that opening riff.
Title track ‘Brighten’, as its name suggests, is a much lighter affair. There is more than a hint of classic Country-Rock about this track, although there is a lot more to it than that and you could easily imagine bands like Gin Blossoms and other similar Alt-Rock bands giving their right arms for a track of this quality, such is the strength of the melodies and the delicate simplicity of the arrangement. Foo Fighters fans will find a lot to enjoy in this track too as it’s slightly reminiscent of their very melodic material.
‘Prism of Doubt’ follows and brings a real Country-Rock feel to the fore. The guitars chime beautifully through this absolute gem of a track, supported by very subtle weeping steel guitars that sit just far enough back in the mix to not overpower anything but they add that hint of Country authenticity and atmosphere that lifts an already excellent track to the level of sublime, aided by highly melodic lead guitars.
The Country theme is continued into ‘Black Hearts and Evil Done’ which starts with layered acoustic guitars and more weeping steel. The pre-chorus and chorus then introduce more Alt-Rock themes and melodies into the mix, with layers of delicious harmonies propelling the chorus into your consciousness. There is a delicious lightness to this track despite its title and Cantrell’s vocals deliver the delicate melodies with consummate ease. It’s an absolutely stunning track and no mistake!
‘Siren Song’ is a superb piece of mid-paced Classic Rock, full of delicate acoustic guitars and sparkling electrics. The melodies and arrangement of this track give it a beautifully haunting vibe, while the riffs in the pre-chorus evoke classic Alice In Chains Grunge. It’s another masterpiece of Rock dynamics, as quieter and louder sections build the track to its glorious conclusion.
‘Had to Know’ kicks off with a wall of massive guitars before a classic Grunge harmonised verse vocal piles in. Swirling Hammond organs add a layer of 70s nostalgia to this track which, to my ears evokes memories of the finest and most rocking of Oasis’ back catalogue in amongst the Grunge influences.
‘Nobody Breaks You’ returns us to a slightly Country-Rock feel with a Grunge-influenced chorus and yet more excellent dynamics and arrangements. This vibe is continued in ‘Dismembered’ which again combines electric and acoustic guitars in an absolutely perfect blend, with deceptively simple yet extremely well-written melodies again driving the song forward.
The album closes with the two minute ‘Goodbye’, which is apparently a cover of a 1971 track by Elton John. It’s a quiet and introspective piano-led piece with layers of strings and guitars providing a melancholic backdrop to the song’s beautiful melody. It is a fitting last move in a very strong collection of songs.
With Brighten, Jerry Cantrell has proved himself as a solo artist with something to say in 2021. The whole album has a beautiful, warm melancholy to it that makes it immensely appealing.
The haunting melodies are delivered exceptionally well – Cantrell may not have a classically brilliant Rock voice, but his vocal has a delightful tonal quality that is just perfect for the sound he is going for across these nine tracks.
Grunge, Classic Rock, Alt-Rock and Country-Rock influences all combine effortlessly to create Cantrell’s signature sound. He is ably supported by a brilliant cast of musicians including bass player Duff McKagan and drummer extraordinaire Abe Laboriel, Jr whose grasp of the requisite grooves gives this whole album a delicious swing.
Overall, Brighten is an excellent and highly recommended piece of work that I shall shortly be adding to my own collection. Do yourself a favour and give it a spin!
BRIGHTEN | Out Now: lnk.to/brighten
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