When Alice In Chains' Layne Staley beat up a Nazi during a live show, 1993
(Credit: Rex Aran Emrick)

Layne Staley’s heartbreaking isolated vocals on Alice in Chains song ‘Man in the Box’

We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to look back at Layne Staley’s heartbreaking isolated vocal for the Alice In Chains song ‘Man in the Box’.

Staley, who rose to worldwide fame in the early 1990s as part of Seattle’s grunge movement, tragically died of a drug overdose 2002 but his legacy on the development of an influential rock and roll sub-genre remains untouched. With his unique vocal style and uncompromising approach to forging his creative vision, Staley remains adored by those who followed his music during his tragically short career.

The singer, who passed away after a lengthy battle with addiction, managed to lay down six quite brilliant full-length albums with Alice In Chains and was always desperately challenging himself to allow his music to be relatable to the listener: “The songs are about things that we were thinking and we wrote ’em down, and when you listen to ’em, whatever you think it’s about… THAT’S what it’s about,” he once famously commented.

However, despite his undeniable musical talent, Staley spoke openly about his personal struggles in life, it was a factor which both consumed his thoughts and, at times, his lyrical content. “Whatever dramas are going on in my life, I always find that place inside my head where I see myself as the cleanest, tallest, strongest, wisest person that I can be,” he once said. “I’ve always looked for the perfect life to step into. I’ve taken all the paths to get where I wanted. But no matter where I go, I still come home.”

During times of personal uncertainty, Staley always returned to his bandmates and to his music. On ‘Man in the Box’, a track which was recorded in 1989 and released as part of the group’s debut studio album Facelift, the band and their lead singer would find international fame and move into unchartered territory. “That whole beat and grind of that is when we started to find ourselves; it helped Alice become what it was,” guitarist Jerry Cantrell once said of the song. “But what it’s basically about is, is how government and media control the public’s perception of events in the world or whatever, and they build you into a box by feeding it to you in your home, ya know. And it’s just about breaking out of that box and looking outside of that box that has been built for you,” he added.

Reflection on his thoughts while creating it, Staley once commented in an interview with Rolling Stone: “I started writing about censorship. Around the same time, we went out for dinner with some Columbia Records people who were vegetarians. They told me how veal was made from calves raised in these small boxes, and that image stuck in my head. So I went home and wrote about government censorship and eating meat as seen through the eyes of a doomed calf.”

Taking on difficult topics and themes within his music was something Staley and Alice in Chains were never afraid of and, in fact, they embraced it. Doing the tragic story of the singer’s demise, the isolated vocal recording of ‘Man In The Box’ takes on a completely new dimension.

Stream the song, below.

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