Jane’s Addiction – The Great Escape Artist (2011)

Posted: October 14, 2011 in Music

Creating one of the most storied albums in rock and roll history is a double-edged sword. Ask the likes of Nirvana, Guns ‘n Roses, Metallica, Pink Floyd, and AC/DC. All of these bands had records early in their career that defined the sound, the genre, and etched them into the history books. When these albums come around (and they are few and far between) they not only open the door for commercial success, but more times than not allow the band a creative license that labels rarely deny.

The other side of the blade, however, is the pressure of repeating the success of these timeless albums each and every time they enter the studio – which never really happens. We know there will never be another Master of Puppets or Back In Black – but that doesn’t keep us from holding our breath and hoping each time the band releases a new album.

Such is the case with Jane’s Addiction. When Nothing’s Shocking was released in 1988, it shook the foundation of music as we know it. In fact, many consider it the first ‘alternative rock’ album created, paving the way for an entire generation of artists like Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Tool.

It was a brand of rock unlike anything ever heard before. An eclectic mix of swirling, vibrant vocals amidst fuzzy, raucous guitars became the band’s trademark – and it was as beautiful as it was brash. Lead singer Perry Farrell was immediately recognized as one of the most cutting-edge writers and performers ever, and his enigmatic and fashionable stage presence gave him instant icon status.

In addition to Farrell, guitar god Dave Navarro made a name for himself with his unique concoction of psychotic-yet-psychadelic riffs. Eric Avery smoothly infused his hypnotic bass lines, and drummer Stephen Perkins circled the wagons with raw, powerful aggression that was part punk, part rock and all energy.

The band were the all the ‘buzz’ in the late 80’s, and the release of Ritual De Lo Habitual in 1990 kept the band on the tips of everyone’s tongues. The band was so big by this time amongst the newly hatched ‘alternative’ scene that Farrell organized and launched the very first Lollapalooza. That’s right – THAT Lollapalooza.

After the tour (which started off with a bang when Navarro and Farrell got into a physical confrontation with each other on the very first night), the band broke up. Part drug abuse, part personality conflict, Jane’s Addiction was over before it even really got started. Farrell went on to other things – most notably the band Porno for Pyros – and Navarro joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers (and married the totally hot Carmen Electra).

Fast forward thirteen years to 2003. The band reunited (albeit without Avery, who was replaced by Chris Chaney) to record and release Strays, but the momentum was long gone. The album charted well, but was missing – in my opinion – the passion the band had on its two previous releases. Probably because the band fucking hated each other.

After extensive touring through 2003-2004, the group – again citing personal differences – disbanded yet again. This time around, though, it wasn’t the ‘news’ it was the first time through. The world knew about the egos, the heroin, and the drama – and really didn’t care anymore. Since then, there have been the occasional sightings (most notably a short tour with Nine Inch Nails in 2009), a handful of rumors and comments from bandmates, but nothing worthy of getting excited about.

That is, until now.

On October 18th, the band is set to release their fourth studio album The Great Escape Artist – the first in seven years – with hopes of recapturing the magical, mystical vibe they created some 20 years ago. The hype is still there (talk of the band/album has been a constant point of conversation on the internet throughout the year), but is the vibe too far gone?

I had the chance to preview the record, and had no choice but to approach it with the trepidation one would expect, based on the band’s history. Sure, the band says they’ve solved all their problems and are back with a vengeance – but if any group would be lying about that, it would be this one. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

And then it happened. No sooner did I press ‘play’ before I was immediately hypnotized by the band’s mystique. “Underground” has the fuzzy, belly-rumbling feel that characterized the band’s style decades ago. Farrell’s vocals are as haunting and fiery as ever, and Navarro soars amidst a sludgy bass line. It is very reminiscent of the early stuff, but comes off exceptionally unique. Could the same sound replace modern rock twice in a lifetime?? We’ll see…

“End To The Lies” is another fabulous track that harkens back to “Jane Says” or “Falling Down the Mountain.” Is it as epic as those tracks? No, but it’s pretty close. The structure is mildly progressive, and the cloud floating over the song is as elegant as it is dark. Any questions I had about the band’s chemistry were answered here. They sound as strong and cohesive as ever, and this song is grand.

If one sat down with the Tarot cards 20 years ago and predicted what Jane’s Addiction would sound like in 2011, I imagine that vision would have been “Curiosity Kills” – it has all the older elements present, but each has a shiny new coat of paint on it. It wants to get all U2 on us, but Farrell won’t let that happen and keeps the track firmly within his grasp. It pales in comparison to the first two offerings, but is a decent track in its own right.

“Irresistable Force” has a far more ‘spacey’ feel to it that reminded me of the Porno For Pyros era. The tribal-like drums are complimented by an airy, illuminating string arrangement that, while soft, is as stunning as anything else on the album. The lyrics are deep and perplexing – which has always been one of my favorite aspects of Farrell’s writing. Another amazing alt-rock track.

Navarro opens “I’ll Hit You Back” with a clean repetition of notes that channels into a mid-paced rocker – highlighted by beautiful harmonized vocals and tempo shifts. While not (yet) released to radio, I would think this track would do exceptionally well on the alternative charts. It builds itself slowly, and scratches itself deeper and deeper into your brain along the way. Lots of great tracks to choose from on this record, but for me, this one pushed its way to the top.

“Twisted Tales” comes next, and while we have so far been panning for gold and pulling up nugget after nugget, this time the pan comes up with nothing but gravel and mud. Musically, it passes – but it comes off very plain. Lyrically, the ‘love song’ has never been Farrell’s strength, and the added falsetto vocals from time to time just don’t feel right. It tries to tell a cold tale of relationships, but ends up having more of a relation Coldplay.

A slower, sexier bass and guitar open “Ultimate Reason” with some distorted crooning from Farrell, but the cord gets yanked quickly, unleashing some heavy rock laden with progressive structure. Again, it’s a nice mix of the strong and the serene – the elegant with the electric – that reminds you how great this band was. And still is.

The slowest track on the record is “Splash A Little Water On It.” Its near-ballad rhythm and snail pace would usually be a turn off for me, but the key signature changes throughout the vocals keep things interesting – or at least palpable. It did feel like it went on too long (in an attempt to be epic), but was a better track than I thought it would be.

“Broken People” continues the ‘chill’ vibe of the albums second half, and again felt just too damn soft. It’s an artistically done song – the lyrics are spine-tingling at times – but if it weren’t for the explosion of guitars halfway through, I just might have skipped ahead. Most will probably say it’s a decent song, but I hold Jane’s Addiction to a higher standard than most bands, so I have to call this as I see it – mildly unimpressive.

A pseudo-session between Farrell and his psychiatrist serves as the prelude to “The Words Right Out Of My Mouth.” Perry proclaims birds are coming down and swallowing his words when he tries to speak. That’s the kind of odd poetry I love from him, and it sets the tone for the hardest rocker on the album. It carries the kind of alternative crunch that would make Frank Black and Kurt Cobain proud, and closes the album in proud fashion.

An album that, in no uncertain terms, proudly declares the return of Jane’s Addiction. Overall, the performance was stunning and poignant. All good things deserve a second (or third) chance, and Farrell, Navarro and Perkins made good on the hope of a return to form. It’s far from Nothing’s Shocking, but the fact that they can still put together a powerful, relevant release after all these years is not only ‘shocking’ – it’s pretty damn amazing.

8/10

Tracklist:
01 – Underground
02 – End to the Lies
03 – Curiosity Kills
04 – Irresistable Force (Met the Immovable Object)
05 – I’ll Hit You Back
06 – Twisted Tales
07 – Ultimate Reason
08 – Splash a Little Water on It
09 – Broken People
10 – Words Right Out of My Mouth

Buy at Amazon

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