REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY: “I STAY AWAY”
Layne Staley only recorded six studio albums in five years — and yet his inimitable voice influenced an entire generation of singers. To commemorate his death ten years ago, members of the MetalSucks staff will be discussing their favorite Staley performances throughout the day.
Though I’m certainly not in the minority, one of my favorite aspects of Alice in Chains was the vocal interplay between Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley. Though the former was a better singer in a traditional sense, Staley’s vocals held all the personality: gravelly, pained, often soulful, and always effective, there was a reason he became the band’s focal point.
That interplay is downplayed on “I’ll Stay Away,” which is odd on paper: it’s one of Alice in Chains’ more melodic numbers, so a Cantrell vocal may have been welcome. But Staley, wounded and frail as he could be, manages to carry the song on his own with aplomb. Forceful and bellowing during the verses and chorus, ominous and quivering along with Cantrell’s guitar during the bridge, he makes himself as chillingly present as the strings that volley back and forth throughout. And while it has all the ingredients of a ballad — descending acoustic arpeggios, a big chorus with thunderous guitars, a solo of reasonable length, orchestration — it’s never limp, weak, or pandering.
“I’ll Stay Away” is simultaneously a more mature Alice in Chains and another example of what the band were always so great at to begin with. Though their cross-pollenation of heavyness and open-wound earnestness has been coopted by countless depressingly lesser bands, the song maintains its heft and darkness, proving that Layne Staley sounded profoundly ghostly long before he left this Earth.