(Top Modern Rock Songs Of All Time)
Song: "Man In The Box"
Artist: Alice In Chains
Release Date: March, 1991
From The Album: Facelift (1990)
Quick Take: An often overlooked but important building block in grunge's ascent to dominance, Alice in Chains' "Man in the Box" hit the MTV airwaves in heavy rotation in 1990, approximately one full year before Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The sepia-toned video depicted a hooded figure wandering around a barnyard while the band played nearby; at the end of the video, the figure drew back his hood to reveal a Christ-like face whose eyes were sewn shut with thick cords, making the chorus line, "Feed my eyes/Now you've sewn them shut," into a sudden and shocking visual reality. More metallic than many of their Seattle colleagues, and thus a better fit for MTV's programming at the time, Alice in Chains nonetheless resembled little else in hard rock's mainstream at the time. "Man in the Box" wasn't flashy, up-tempo, hedonistic, or really even aggressive; although its melody was memorable, it wasn't pop-metal and it had no roots in thrash. Instead, the song was a simple, lumbering beast, its sonic textures thick and muscular, its anger more sullen and introspective. As the title suggests, the atmosphere of "Man in the Box" is claustrophobic and bleak, never making the source of its discomfort explicit ("I'm the dog who gets beat/Shove my nose in shit") but rendering the overall impression with a sick intensity. Minimalistic at a time when few metal bands cared to explore such territory, "Man in the Box" is mostly built around a simple, chugging one-chord riff that runs through the opening hook and verses -- it's a two-note chord harmonized with the minor seventh instead of the standard fifth (the notes E and D instead of E and B). This produces a queasy dissonance, close to what the ear expects to hear, yet just far enough away for the listener to register that something isn't quite right. The song's slow, creeping melodies float over guitarist Jerry Cantrell's grinding and shuffling, sounding eerie and disturbing. This is especially true on the wordless opening melody, where Layne Staley's peculiar, tensed-throat vocals are matched in unison with an effects-laden guitar; the combination of the two timbres produces a wobbly, seasick quality that sets the stage for the song's bleakness. Staley explodes as the song crashes into the chorus, trading off portentous lines like: "Jesus Christ/Deny your maker" and "He who tries/Will be wasted" with Cantrell's drier, less-urgent voice. In fact, the contrast in those two lines perfectly sums up the song -- a meeting of metal theatrics and introspective hopelessness.
Courtesy: Steve Huey (allmusic.com)