Not Quite Shocking Enough
What made Jane’s Addiction essential 20-plus years ago was not the music alone; it was the tapestry interwoven among the instruments, the melodies, the sonic explorations and textures, and the words of Perry Farrell. Perry Farrell was a man in love: in love with youth, in love with bohemia, in love with drugs, in love with life. Their gestalt reflected an overwhelming compulsion to express. Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual transcend their medium; the song “Three Days” is as indispensible a piece of American art as any Wyeth painting.
Their newest album, The Great Escape Artist, has more in common with 2003’s passable but forgettable Strays than with those early masterpieces. Like Strays, the songs are relatively short and catchy, but also lacking in emotional impact. Song subjects include revenge, fist-shaking, and finding oneself—hackneyed topics compared to the depths explored in Farrell’s early days. The lyrics sound like a 52-year-old man trying to write what he thinks today’s youth would want to hear.
Musically, however, the album delivers. TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek on bass and Rich Costey’s production help give the album a spacey sheen. Artist rocks less than Strays, and it suits the band, feeling less like someone attempting to sound like Jane’s Addiction and more like an evolution. The songwriting proves that Jane’s Addiction can show younger bands, many of which they have influenced, how to compose proper dynamic rises and falls and support them with indelible refrains. Seriously, try not to get hooked by the powerful chorus of “Irresistible Force” or the drive of “Splash a Little Water on It.”
Dave Navarro’s guitar work is subtle, not flashy but still recognizable, at its strongest on the plodding “End to the Lies.” Steven Perkins’ percussion features the controlled wildness that helped define Jane’s Addiction’s sound since their inception. Artist bests the interstitial Strays in every way, even if you shouldn’t mention it in the same breath as their classic works. Still, if this represents a new beginning rather than a attempt at reprisal, it’s an impressive new start.