Jane's Addiction: The Great Escape Artist reviewed
Last June, during Jane's Addiction's induction into the Guitar Center's RockWalk in Hollywood, guitarist Tom Morello made his case: "Nirvana often gets credit for being the first 'alternative' band to break through, the band that changed music and led rock out of the hair metal wilderness of the '80s. That's just not true. It was Jane's Addiction: inspiring, intelligent, furiously rocking and artistically deep."
He's got a point: Nothing's Shocking, the band's major-label debut, was issued in August of 1988, and their follow-up, Ritual De Lo Habitual, came out a year later - the latter beating Nevermind by 13 months.
While Nirvana grabbed the modern-rock playlist crown, Jane's Addiction embraced the fringe, the outer regions of the alt-rock parade. And though they sputtered and spattered during much of the ensuing decades, the hope remained high that the band would return in full flight with a wham-bam album worthy of being mentioned in the same breath of their first two releases.
The Great Escape Artist comes damn close. Despite some hiccups along the way (bassist Eric Avery, who rejoined the band in 2009, quit again a year later; and Duff McKagan, who joined soon after, tendered his resignation within six months), Jane's Addiction - singer Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins - have made a big blazing fire with their fourth studio album and first in eight years.
After McKagan (who contributed to three songs here) bolted, Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio came on board to lend a hand, along with former band member Chris Chaney. They join producer Rich Costey, whose past work includes Muse and Interpol, in forming a hazy yet crucial fourth of the Jane's Addiction picture.
And let's give it up to technology, too, as in old school: The band tracked The Great Escape Artist on the same console that they used to record their first two albums. Sometimes there's magic in those wires, some strange voodoo. Whatever the case, Jane's have found it here.
Full-frontal guitar rock, electronic textures and shaman eroticism might make strange bedfellows in most people's worlds, but for Jane's Addiction, they weave an intriguing and captivating web. The 10 tracks on The Great Escape Artist - that's right, 10, the band doesn't wear out the welcome - slam and swirl like a Big Wednesday surf. The group's sound is hard, expansive, reverential yet forward-thinking. This is a band with quite a past and a limitless future. That they've managed to put the two perspectives together on one record is reason to rejoice.
Talk about your openers. Dave Navarro busts out a brutal, Mountain Song/Zeppelin-y riff that carries the weight of the song, during which the rest of the bands explore dynamics that neatly encapsulate the best of Nothing's Shocking and Ritual De Lo Habitual.
Perry Farrell is heartbreaking as he intones in a variety of multitracked voices, "We're all hustlers, hustlers!/ I try and get some love from up high/ there just ain't enough to go around."
The sonics gain momentum. Juxtaposed with Stephen Perkins' tribal drums, Navarro's spiky lead lines become trance-inducing invitations to a dance that's just beginning.
End To The Lies
This one builds like a volcano ready to blow. Over a slow and steady bass and Perkins' insistent, marching snare, Navarro lays down a sinister guitar drone - the perfect framework for Farrell, in a voice both menacing and childlike, to set all the liars and frauds of society straight.
The rhythms surge, and Navarro's guitar - the echoes grow longer, until they're cavernous - eventually assaults the listener who's driven by a lust of sound. Navarro gives a pure and natural performance, bursting with fear and desire, as it he's entering a bullfight.
The outer limits of the Jane's Addiction sound...so far. Dave Navarro's guitar is Edge-like in places, thrust into a gloomy existence in which Farrell, his voice filtered as if he's singing through a megaphone, sings, "Look away, look away, but you couldn't look away."
The band works up quite a froth, culminating in a spectacular guitar solo, bright and infused with energy, and it's so good that it serves as a ride-out. More than 20 years into his career with Jane's Addiction, Dave Navarro's hitting a creative peak. Who'd a thunk it?
Irresistible Force (Met The Immovable Object)
A sensual, seductive trancer, this one is introduced by a subtle bass-and-drum intro that mesmerizes. All the while, Navarro's guitar lines cast their own kind of spell.
Taken as a whole, Irresistible Force is an emotional, wrenching ode to sex. Mysterious, elusive, playful and cunning, it has its way with you. Kind of like...well, sex.
I'll Hit You Back
A gripping study in shadows and light. I'll Hit You Back is a grinding, relentless, raw electronic take on punk rock, with producer Rich Costey mining the fine line between machines and humanity.
Things start slow and steady, but after the bridge, amid fierce, double-time drums, Farrell's vocals gush. It's a thrill ride, and after a frenetic snare roll, Dave Navarro ignites a veritable guitar inferno.
As if there were ever any doubt, Twisted Tales cements Dave Navarro's status as a true guitar hero. His main parts here could supply the next decade of James Bond films, or they could work over the best Portishead record you've never heard. Or if Ennio Morricone wanted to get back in the game... OK, you get the idea.
The beauty of this track lies in the impulsive responses of the band. They don't do what normal musicians do, nor do they do what's expected of them. Rather, they react like human beings. When violence erupts, they respond accordingly - they recoil, and then they lash out.
It's a riveting journey, and one that's worth repeated trips.
The slinky, subtle bass intro isn't surprising - this is one of the songs that Duff McKagan had a hand in writing. Nor is it very surprising when Ultimate Reason explodes into one of the most live-sounding cuts that Jane's Addiction have ever recorded. The presence of the former Guns N Roses' bassist, however brief, no doubt left a mark.
The song gallops off, with Navarro tearing off chunky Middle Eastern chords and Farrell matching him beat for beat. It's a bit of a scat-sing, call-and-response thing they do, something of a dance, and it's joyous and celebratory. By the end, we're right there with them.
Splash A Little Water On It
A hazy, slo-mo musical treatment, with druggy bass and drums providing the underpinning in which Perry Farrell summons up some back-in-the-day Jane's vocals that soar like eagles in flight.
Even so, the milieu is painfully real: "We've been drinking and smoking till four, five or six in the morning/ I take a splash of water to bring me around and get me going" Farrell sings, and you believe this is a scene he's seen more than twice in his life.
The band plays this out like they're the Doors incarnate, perfecting a New Age take on the Riders On The Storm vibe. Throughout, Navarro whips up striking, ripping sheets of guitar goodness, layers and layers of sound that form their own kind of pressure.
Inventive and frisky, like some of the latter songs on Achtung Baby that kicked and punched as they were hustled into dark corners, Broken People plays not like a classic but as a work that's alive and smart, even while it evokes some of the spirit of Jane Says.
After Farrell sings "Welcome to the world/ welcome to the aching world/ of beautiful people," the song smacks into the land of My Bloody Valentine on steroids, with Dave Navarro hard-wiring guitar surges that provide real heft.
Words Right Out Of My Mouth
Jane's Addiction finish their first album in eight years with a dramatic flourish. Words Right Out Of My Mouth races past one's senses, sprinting madly with guitar stabs before it dives into a psychotic rush of odd-time dementia.
There's a brief moment of calm during the bridge's acoustic break, but within seconds Navarro sounds the alarm and speeds off, burning up ground as fast as he can run.