Over two decades ago, Jane’s Addiction emerged from the convoluted punk/metal/glam Los Angeles scene as a ball of mutated sights and sounds. Led by the enigmatic Perry Farrell, the band forged ahead with its unique blend of musical influences, laying the groundwork for the genre that would become known as
alternative. An all too brief career concluded as the band broke up in a haze of drugs and acrimony, leaving only a handful of recordings (albeit with an impressive reputation) as its legacy. The importance of Jane’s Addiction to the germination of ‘90s music is a given, and it is surprisingly ironic that the group was not around long enough to enjoy it as it happened. After the group fell apart, Farrell went on to form Porno for Pyros with drummer Stephen Perkins, and to brainstorm the successful Lollapalooza tour concept; bassist Eric Avery pursued other interests, while guitarist Dave Navarro honed his craft as a replacement member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (The incestuous relationship between Jane’s and the Peppers continued as Chili bass ace Flea joined Navarro, Farrell, and Perkins for a short stint in 1997).
After such an extended period apart, it would have seemed unlikely that Jane’s Addiction would ever reconvene to record a new album, let alone produce such a fine effort as Strays. But that is exactly what the band has done.
Older, wiser, more tolerant, and generally cleaned up, Farrell, Navarro, and Perkins have joined forces with bassist Chris Chaney in the new millennium’s version of their revered group (Avery chose not to re-enlist due in large part to ongoing hard feelings with Farrell). While loyal fans are ecstatic about the new recording, it is a far cry from the Jane’s Addiction we knew and loved so many years ago.
Perhaps a sign of the group’s growth as artists, perhaps merely a hint of the changing times, Strays is an expertly crafted rock album, noticeably lacking much of Jane’s earlier alternative sensibilities. Gone is Farrell’s shrill tormented wail, replaced instead by rich impassioned vocals; Navarro’s original scattershot playing has matured into ornately heavy riffing reminiscent of Slash’s best work; Perkins’ drumming is complemented by Chaney’s studio expertise, making for a precise rhythmic foundation. Add to the mix Bob Ezrin’s stellar production talents, and the end result is Strays.
Farrell’s writing and vision had always been the guiding force behind the band’s recorded successes, particularly the acclaimed album Ritual de lo Habitual. There are glimpses of the traditional Jane’s sound in the new songs “Price I Pay” and “Everybody’s Friend”, as Farrell’s sensitivity is underscored by familiar melancholy, making this pair of tracks as close to vintage Jane’s as any on Strays. While the album’s lyrical content is consistently strong, the remaining nine tracks are given true life through Navarro’s electrifying fret work. “True Nature” and “Just Because” may be more visible due to radio/video airplay, but “Superhero” and “Wrong Girl” serve as the guitarist’s coming of age outlet, as he dazzles listeners with his superb playing, and stamps the album with his distinctly heavy brand.
Even Perkins is given an opportunity to enjoy the spotlight, as his ferocious drumming leads the way in “Hypersonic”, three-and-a-half minutes of warp speed listening enjoyment. It is easily the most dynamic track of the 11 offerings.
A decade ago, comparisons between Jane’s Addiction and heavy rock acts would have been viewed as alternative music heresy. That said, the band’s new incarnation, with its decidedly riff-oriented sound, more closely resembles the early dexterity of Led Zeppelin than anything from the original Jane’s era.
Released to critical acclaim, the ultimate importance of Strays is yet to be seen. At the very least, the album has already served as the long anticipated reunion between band and fans. Additionally, it shows that the time off has allowed Jane’s Addiction to grow and evolve as a musical entity. In spite of Avery’s absence, Farrell and company seem to have made peace with the past and are enjoying the present in an effort to embrace the future.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long for another Jane’s album of this quality.
// Notes from the Road
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