Jar of Flies is the third studio EP by the American rock band Alice in Chains, released on January 25, 1994, through Columbia Records. It is the first EP in music history to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 Chart with the first week sales exceeding 141,000 copies in the United States. The EP was well received by critics and has since been certified triple-platinum by the RIAA and has gone on to sell 4 million copies worldwide, making Jar of Flies one of the band's most successful releases.
In Japan, the EP is titled "Another Side of Alice" (アナザー・サイド・オブ・アリス).
Background and recording
Following Alice in Chains' extensive 1993 world tour for Dirt, Mike Starr getting fired during the tour for his drug use, and the band's appearance at Lollapalooza, the band members returned home to Seattle to find themselves evicted from their residence after failing to pay the rent. The band then moved into London Bridge Studio feeling lonely and depressed. Vocalist Layne Staley said the band "just wanted to go into the studio for a few days with our acoustic guitars and see what happened. We never really planned on the music we made at that time to be released. But the record label heard it and they really liked it. For us, it was just the experience of four guys getting together in the studio and making some music."
Written and recorded in one week in September 1993, Jar of Flies was produced by the band members themselves with Toby Wright, and marks the first major studio recording with bassist Mike Inez who replaced Starr (the band recorded two songs with Inez, "What the Hell Have I" and "A Little Bitter", for the Summer 1993 Last Action Hero soundtrack earlier in the year). Guitarist Jerry Cantrell said, "That was the first time we'd written with Mike Inez… The whole Jar of Flies EP proved to both us and the fans what a talented and valid part of the band Mike was. He plays the nastiest, darkest shit but he's got the sweetest heart in the world." The album was recorded on a DAT machine, which was state-of-the-art for the time.
According to Staley, the title for the album came from a science experiment Cantrell conducted in third grade: "They gave him two jars full of flies. One of the jars they overfed, the other jar they underfed. The one they overfed flourished for a while, then all the flies died from overpopulation. The one they underfed had most of the flies survive all year. I guess there's a message in there somewhere. Evidently that experiment had a big impact on Jerry."
The album was nominated for Best Recording Package in 1995 but lost to Buddy Jackson for "Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys" performed by Asleep at the Wheel.
Music and lyrics
Jar of Flies well demonstrates Alice in Chains' broad musical scope and features a variety of predominantly acoustic songs ranging from dark, depressed passages like "Rotten Apple" and "Nutshell" to the more upbeat anthems like "No Excuses". It also boasts various instrumentation not otherwise common in the Alice in Chains catalog; the opening track, "Rotten Apple", features a talk box effect, and "Don't Follow" includes both harmonica and soul-driven vocals. However, Cantrell's signature electric guitar style still plays a prominent role in correspondence with the acoustic rhythms. "Whale & Wasp" also offers another Alice in Chains rarity in its purely instrumental nature, as does the blues/country-inspired "Swing on This", the closing track of the album.
While it was never originally intended for a public release, Columbia Records released Jar of Flies on January 25, 1994. Jar of Flies entered the Billboard 200 at number one; the sales that prompted this was over 141,000 during the first week of its release thus becoming the first ever EP and first Alice in Chains release to top the charts. It was the only EP ever to gain this distinction until 2004, when a mashup EP by Jay-Z and Linkin Park titled Collision Course also achieved the number one spot ten years later and Bad Meets Evil's Hell: The Sequel in 2011. Jar of Flies has since been certified triple platinum, with over 2,037,853 copies sold during its first year and another million more copies after two years. Paul Evans of Rolling Stone called the EP "darkly gorgeous", and Steve Huey stated "Jar of Flies is a low-key stunner, achingly gorgeous and harrowingly sorrowful all at once."
Jar of Flies included the singles "No Excuses" and "I Stay Away", both of which had accompanying music videos. "No Excuses", which was a number one single on the Mainstream Rock charts, was Alice in Chains' most successful radio song until 2009. The second single, "I Stay Away", reached number ten on the Mainstream Rock charts, while the final single "Don't Follow", reached number 25. The final single released from the EP was a bold offering for a grunge-oriented band: a promo of the string instrumental "Whale & Wasp" was released as a promo-only single in January 1995. "I Stay Away" was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1995.
In November 2011, Jar of Flies was ranked number four on Guitar World magazine's top ten list of guitar albums of 1994. It was featured in Guitar World magazine's "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994" list. In May 2014, the EP was placed at number five on Loudwire's "10 Best Hard Rock Albums of 1994" list.
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