Wednesday, August 29, 2007

[080] Ritual de lo Habitual

Album: Ritual de lo Habitual
Artist: Jane's Addiction
Release Date: August 1990
Label: Warner Bros.
Producers: Dave Jerden & Perry Farrell

"Ladies and gentlemen,
We have more influence over your children than you do,
But we love them.
Born and raised in Los Angeles,
Jane's Addiction!"
- loose translation of the intro to "Stop!"

Jane’s Addiction were the Anti-Guns N’ Roses. Both pulled from the sonic template of Led Zeppelin, but where Axl’s crew augmented their sound with the outward overacting of the Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, and Elton John, Jane’s pulled in the mystery and strung-out haze of The Velvet Underground and The Cure to create a maelstrom of post-Goth hard rock. They came together as part of the L.A. underground that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone, and had grown out of the early area hardcore, but was trying to circumvent the Sunset Boulevard hairspray scene. Obviously, these bands were much more interesting than the second-string hair teasers that GNR had to hang around, but while they dove head-first into the psychedelic sex and erotic drugs, Jane’s wisely never went for the same P-Funk necrophilia that their L.A. counterparts were known for. Plus, Perry Farrell knew the difference between being misogynistic and sexy; his eroticism seemed to be more on an instinctual animal level. He was the Jim Morrison of the late 80’s, but he had learned just as much from Lou Reed, and that surreal hybrid always informed his druggy narratives. The band complemented that: guitarist Dave Navarro and bassist Eric Avery always played what felt natural to the song instead of forcing it in an obtuse direction, and that lent their playing a sexy hip-shake. Working on an even more subconscious level, drummer Stephen Perkins’ percussive patterns were always closer to an African tribesman than an alcoholic caveman on the other side of town; after hearing him play, I wasn’t surprised to hear he once said his biggest influence was the rhythms of his washing machine.

If Perkins was listening to his household appliances, Dave Navarro’s guitar frequently sounds like a junkyard, metal scraping on metal. Of course, electric guitar strings are metal, but I’d attribute this to the copious amounts of narcotics the band was taking affecting their hearing (They even sneak methadone onto the album art). From a non-guitarist, my best guess is that he was jumping on his distortion and wah-wah pedals at the same time. No matter - he uses this sound to create moments of frenzy, of ugliness, and of beauty, and at no time in his career has he ever done it better than on the 11-minute epic “Three Days”. If Farrell was Jim Morrison, then this song was “The End”, complete with virtually impenetrable poetic lyrics – something about Perry's deceased friend Xiola. Navarro snatches the song right out from under Perry’s lyric sheet and Avery’s iconic, rolling bassline, and burns it with his breathtaking playing. He drops not one, but two of the greatest solos of all time, singeing your eyebrows and sending shards of sound to tear your eardrums. When Perry clears the runway and shouts “Go” or “1 2 3 4”, Navarro takes off to heights that some of the greatest guitarists have never reached – maybe only Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page have ever been this transcendent on record. Perry, in turn, shines on the gorgeous "Classic Girl" and the 8-minute ballad “Then She Did…”, turning in his most genuinely emotional vocal performance; when he offers memories of his mother, your heart breaks with every line.

Despite their musical debts to the past, Jane’s Addiction were the definition of the “Alternative Nation”, mostly because Perry was the first one to propose such a union. He promoted the freedom of creativity in the face of what he saw as an oppressive government; the cover of Ritual de lo Habitual - a sculpture of Perry in a threesome with two women, all three with halos of flames – got the album banned in some stores, so the band put the First Amendment on the cover of the copies for Wal-Mart. In the album’s liner notes, he speaks of the equality and respect due for women and blacks, and then warns of the destruction of our planet. His inclusive liberalism continues on the first side of the album; it boasts a thread of being proud of bucking the norm and standing up for the right to be different. The blazing “Stop” predicts the crumbling of cultural prejudices, “No One’s Leaving” promotes interracial harmony, and “Obvious” bubbles over with the frustration of Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9”. Even when the songs don’t have a higher message, as on the Moroccan-flavored “Of Course”, the metallic punk of “Ain’t No Right”, and the monster single “Been Caught Stealing”, the band delivers the songs with unquestionable fire and a unique dynamic that only Jane’s Addiction had. It’s no accident that none of the high profile projects that Farrell and Navarro tackled after Jane’s never measured up. Like Zeppelin before them, they were a singular unit, more than the sum of their parts.

Perry Farrell knew his dream was possible. Any glance at the tight-knit punk underground of the mid 80’s and you could see that it was ready to blow up to a larger audience. Jane’s Addiction were a leader in the wave of bands invading MTV in the late 80’s, marching along side everyone from R.E.M. to the Pixies, from Faith No More to Nine Inch Nails, but none of them decided to step up like Perry. Lollapalooza was a genius move, and less of a gamble than anyone could have predicted. Nirvana happened because of Lollapalooza, and the travelling festival happened because of Jane’s Addiction's success with Ritual; they broke up because they couldn't top it, and not only did they break up and make room at the table, but Lollapalooza served the deserts. Jane's success had tested the waters so that Grunge, and all the alternative music that followed, could cannonball in the pool.

01. "Stop!"
02. "No One's Leaving"
03. "Ain't No Right"
04. "Obvious"
05. "Been Caught Stealing"
06. "Three Days"
07. "Then She Did..."
08. "Of Course"
09. "Classic Girl"

"Three Days" [audio]

- BONUS: "Stop!" [video]
- BONUS: "Been Caught Stealing" [video]
- BONUS: "Ain't No Right" [video]
- BONUS: "Classic Girl" [video]

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