This fall, it's box-set time for the very unsummery Seattle band Alice in Chains. Until then, there's this anthology, full of high points from their striking previous albums, plus a stray soundtrack appearance and a pair of live performances. The set opens with two previously unreleased songs: "Get Born Again," recorded last year, is a drone lifted by ominous chorales, hardened by slashing guitars and set off with Layne Staley intoning, "Just repeat a couple lines"; "We Die Young" is a fiery demo. You wouldn't call Alice in Chains a wide-ranging band — they've never met a minor key they didn't love, and melody, in their view, exists to be kept on a leash. But they excel at misery and suffering because they're so disciplined and because they exercise such consistent taste in communicating their blues-grunge-hard-rock despair. "Would?," from 1992's Dirt, is a Seattle song that in 1999 evokes no grunge nostalgia. It's timeless, one of the most stylish singles of the decade, the work of a band which understands that life gets way out of hand but that first-rate rock recordings can't.
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