An Old Addiction
There are some bands that you either love or you hate. Jane’s Addiction is one of them. I love them. But I also know many people who hate them. In fact, it is the very same reason for my loving them that is also the reason why some others hate them. That is, of course, Perry Farrell’s unconventional style of singing (he shrieks) and his voice, which I’ve read, being compared to a “banshee-in-a-wind-tunnel”. I have had companions forbidding me from playing any Jane’s Addiction albums at home on the stereo, forcing me to listen to those delightful brain-shredding shrieks on the earphones or headphones.
Not that I mind getting Jane’s Addiction piped into my ears, direct and unadulterated. And it is not only Farrell’s (who was born Peretz Bernstein and later changed his name to a play on the word ‘peripheral’) singing that makes Jane’s Addiction a great top-drawer rock band but also the music. The band’s original line-up included guitarist Dave Navarro (who later joined Red Hot Chili Peppers), bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins, in addition to Farrell’s vocals. And this was a killer combo, particularly Navarro’s guitar, which shrieked complementarily with Farrell’s vocals.
Ironically, although I had a copy of Jane’s Addiction’s eponymous live album, it was their cover of the Grateful Dead classic, Ripple, on the 1991 Dead tribute album, Deadicated, that made me their fan. And when I heard Jane’s Addiction (the album), it was yet another cover – of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy – that clinched the deal. I became a Farrell and Jane’s Addiction fan.
Formed in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, Jane’s are a band that broke up twice – once in 1991, before reuniting in 1997 for a very brief while and then reuniting for the second time in 2001. On those two reunions, bassist Avery did not come to the party and had to be replaced by others, including Flea, Navarro’s band-mate from Red Hot Chili Peppers, which the lead guitarist joined after Jane’s broke up the first time. When the third reunion happened in 2008, the original line-up was back and my provocation for writing this column on them is the recent release of a single, End to The Lies, from their forthcoming new album, The Great Escape Artist.
The music of Jane’s Addiction is difficult to describe. They play hard rock, with a hint of metal, but also with huge influences of folk, punk and jazz. The blend can sound heady and rock-anthemic. I consider live as well as studio recordings of some of their tunes, such as Pigs in Zen or Whores or Jane Says to be among the all-time best songs in rock music. Of all their studio efforts, Nothing’s Shocking is probably their best album, although the live one that I mentioned before, as well as 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, are also great. What’s best about Nothing’s Shocking is the band’s ability to work so well as a team – every component fits in snugly with each other: Farrell’s unique vocals, Navarro’s wailing guitar, Avery’s robust basslines and Perkins’ tight yet adventurous drumming.
Actually, that is probably true about most of Jane’s Addiction’s albums (including the live ones and the compilations) – I say ‘most’ and not ‘all’ because there are some of their releases (without the original line-up), the ‘in-between’ albums, which I really don’t care for much.
It would be unfair to talk about Farrell as only a flamboyant singer and performer – he also designed many of the band’s risqué album covers, had side-projects such as the shortlived but talented band, Porno for Pyros, but more importantly, founded Lollapalooza, a unique touring festival that started as a farewell tour around the time Jane’s Addiction disbanded in the early 1990s. Lollapalooza has now become an annual festival that brings in bands from every conceivable genre.
Last week when I heard End to The Lies, the new single from the reconstituted original line-up of Jane’s Addiction, there was a sense of déjà vu. The music sounded as delectably hybrid as in their early days. Navarro’s guitar and Farrell’s vocals fed off each other and although bassist Avery is out of the band again (TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek is on bass) they sound as they did on their best recordings. The entire experience, all 3 min 35 secs of it (that’s how short the single is), is making me impatient as I wait for The Great Escape Artist. It’s an old addiction, after all.