ALICE IN CHAINS "Jar of Flies" Columbia...

ALICE IN CHAINS "Jar of Flies"

Columbia ** Perhaps Alice in Chains exorcised a few too many demons on its dark and cathartic "Dirt" album in '92, because the new "Jar of Flies" EP lacks the visceral intensity and memorable songs that marked the Seattle hard-rock quartet's four previous releases.

While the band has certainly earned the right to explore other aspects of its musical personality--and it does, even dabbling in jazz-swing and incorporating strings on this partly acoustic, partly electric effort--the result is ultimately more atmosphere than substance. The overall feel of the seven-song collection is heady, warm and ethereal, but with few exceptions the songs are too linear and static to be compelling. "I Stay Away" features some of Alice's trademark, dark 'n' heavy crunch and Layne Staley's passionate if strangely mannered vocals, and the poignant ballad "Don't Follow," featuring a plaintive harmonica and Jerry Cantrell's distinctive, dirge-like guitar wail, is beautiful and even Beatleesque in its gentle melody.

But that's about it for bright spots among 30 otherwise monotonous, meandering minutes. New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

* Times Link 808-8463 With this issue, Sunday Calendar introduces a new phone service for readers. To hear excerpts from any of the albums reviewed, call TimesLink and press * and the artist's corresponding four-digit code. Domino *5710 Alice in Chains *5711 ZZ Top *5712 Shai *5713 Bobby Brown *5714 Mary J. Blige *5715 Das EFX *5716 Jody Watley *5717 TimesLink is available in the (213), (310), (714), (818) and (909) area codes.

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