If I could, would you? | “Would?” by Alice In Chains

If I could, would you? | “Would?” by Alice In Chains

Shay Gale, Media Librarian

When one thinks of music from the ‘90s, one of the first genres that come to mind is grunge. Nirvana had completely changed the cultural landscape with Nevermind, and made grunge a household name with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The catchy, fast-paced nature of Nirvana’s hit album glossed over a subject that had proven, unfortunately, foundational for many of the bands at the time. That being substance abuse and addiction, specifically heroin. While Kurt Cobain was relatively open about his relationship with drugs, it was rarely the forefront of Nirvana’s music, instead appearing as just a personal vice of the band’s frontman. However, there must always be yin to yang. While Nirvana was trying to distance themselves from the topic of drug abuse in the public eye, Alice In Chains was fully embracing it and making it a core part of the band’s identity.

Alice In Chains was doing something very different by embracing the unspoken devil of the grunge movement. Instead of dancing around the subject, they were incorporating it into their lyrics and using it as a creative tool for writing their music. This led to the creation of some of the grittiest and visceral music of the era. Their album Facelift would catapult them into the mainstream, marking the scene’s hunger for a darker subject matter that sadly hit close to home for many of the listeners.

The band’s creative prowess and popularity wouldn’t peak until the release of Dirt, possibly one of the most influential rock albums of all time. Songs like “Rooster” and “Them Bones” crawled their way onto radio stations across the worlds, giving the public listeners a taste for blood that was only sated by the lyrical prowess and haunting voice of singer Layne Staley. One track on this album stood far and away as the magnum opus of the band, exemplifying both the talent and genius of all members of Alice In Chains, and solidifying them as one of the greatest grunge bands of all time. Originally written as a tribute to Mother Love Bones lead singer Andrew Wood, who had tragically died of a heroin overdose years prior, “Would?” brings every part of what made Alice In Chains so influential and puts it into one neat package.

Opening with quite possibly one of the most notable bass lines in rock history, the listener is immediately transported into a hellish landscape where all hope is gone. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s voice quickly enters the mix, with Staley’s ghastly vocals echoing over Cantrell’s opening lyrics that would foretell Staley’s own fall from grace.



Know me broken /

by my master /

Teach thee on child /

Love hereafter.”

A panicked drum beat meets a rising guitar as Staley’s gnarled voice claws its way onto the scene, breaking the listener out of the hypnotic trance caused by the instrumentals. The band comes together into a cacophony of noise that can’t seem to overpower Staley’s anguished cries. Cantrell’s otherworldly guitar riff fades in and out while tribal beats slam over an inverted version of the opening bassline, creating a haunting vessel for the chorus to ride upon. The chorus itself tells a story of addiction, judgment and hopelessness, common themes in many of the band’s songs.

Into the flood again /

Same old trip it was back then /

So I made a big mistake /

Try to see it once my way.”

After the chorus, we’re returned to the familiar soundscape of the pre-chorus. Cantrell’s soothing voice returns, creating a moment to recuperate before the inevitable return of Staley’s anguished cries. The lyrics this time around create an image of an addict who’s not quite ready to quit, instead thinking that their only function is to further feed their addiction.

“Drifting body /

Sole desertion /

Flying not yet /

Quite the notion.”

The instrumentals and chorus once again burst back into the fray, creating the feeling of a cycle that is impossible to break. A short guitar solo breaks out, a welcome break from the pounding repetition of the chorus and the overwhelming lyrics of Staley. The chorus comes back around one last time, more powerful than ever. Finally, we’re brought to the song’s peak, with Cantrell’s powerful guitar chugging and Sean Kinney’s mesmerizing drumbeats ride alongside Staley’s desperate shouts.

Am I wrong? /

Have I run too far to get home? /

Have I gone? /

And left you here alone?”

The vocals once again become the forefront as all instrumentals stop their rhythm in order to strike alongside Staley’s final line, branding the searing pain of uncertainty into the listeners mind in the form of an open-ended question.

“If I would, could you?”