REMEMBERING LAYNE STALEY: “THEM BONES”
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.
There aren’t a lot of bands brave enough to lead off an album with a song about how we’re all gonna die and we can’t do shit about it. Even fewer can write a hit single with its central riff in 7/8. Alice in Chains did both with Dirt’s incredible opener, “Them Bones.”
Despite the tricky shifting meter between verse and chorus, the song just flows, and a lot of that is because of all those long open vowels that Layne Staley sings over the eternally ascending verse riff. The friction between the chromatic riffing against those open fourth vocal harmonies (a staple of Alice in Chains’ vocal style) gives “Them Bones” its unshakable jarring feeling, and Staley’s nasal tone seems to shift colors as he holds those notes longer, like he’s imitating an Indian tambura with his voice.
That’s why covers of “Them Bones” by Grave and Suicide Silence, however heavy, couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the original. This song relies on the specific qualities of Staley’s voice for its power, and without it, this is an empty skeleton of a song — or to put it another way, “A big ole pile a them bones.”