Jane's Addiction return with three quarters of their old lineup and every bit of their old zing on Strays, their first studio album since 1990. At a time when most hard rock has devolved into bluster, spite and tattooed self-pity, the revived Jane's Addiction rock for something that shouldn't have become unfashionable: joy.
The band isn't offering just mindless, feelin'-groovy joy. There's also the pleasure of making noise and staying peculiar, of being the perennial outsider who just might get the last laugh. In "Super Hero," Perry Farrell sings, "I'm not your average guy" -- one of the album's few understatements.
It was always one of rock's best jokes that the truest heir to Led Zeppelin was not an English blues band with a golden-haired sex symbol but a bunch of California hard-rock eclectics fronted by skinny, polymorphous Perry Farrell. While Dave Navarro's guitar dispensed power-chord blasts and metal-edged funk, Farrell spent the first few Jane's Addiction albums sympathizing with whores, druggies and shoplifters, when he wasn't doing his own fractured introspection.
Now, after years of reunion gigs and tours, Jane's Addiction have finally come up with music that can stand alongside their previous albums. The band sounds familiar, with its old gambits intact: the serenely rippling ballads that give way to battering-ram riffs, the odd-meter funk vamps, the sudden swerves from metal stomp to thoughtful melody, the ocean-size crescendos. Aiming for the radio, Jane's Addiction sound beefier now, more Zeppelin than ever in songs such as "Price I Pay." Bob Ezrin (who produced Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Kiss and Peter Gabriel in the 1970s) makes every instrument larger than life, magically carving out resonances without losing crispness; every so often, keyboards or a string section slip in. Navarro's guitars are everywhere: snarling, buzzing, chomping, pealing, wriggling or sighing wherever a song needs them, with Stephen Perkins' drums constantly demanding more. They sound thrilled to be collaborating again.
Yet times have changed since the band's first incarnation. The early Jane's Addiction were close to the street life Farrell sang about, and the music seemed to channel possibilities of anarchy and dangerous desire, especially at concerts. That glint of madness isn't part of the revived band, which compensates with an extra decade of professionalism and cunning. Amid a manic rush of guitars in "Hypersonic," Farrell vows, "You thought that we were fast before/We're going faster and faster and faster."
There's less close observation now and more attitude. "I always seem to get lost, but I'm always finding trouble," Farrell sings. Most of the songs are his own manifestoes, with a typically off-center blend of bravado, longing and advice. Farrell calls for compassion in "True Nature," reconciliation in "Everybody's Friend" and individuality everywhere. On the album's first single, "Just Because," Navarro's guitars claw and scream as Farrell upbraids someone who has become merely functional: "When was the last time you did anything . . . just because?"
Jane's Addiction don't bother with the pettiness that infested hard rock (and hip-hop, too) in the 1990s. They seek nothing less than ecstasy, and every power chord takes them one step closer.
(RS 928, August 7, 2003)