Deep down, we want to see lightning strike twice in the same place. We know the probability is close to nil, but we keep watching anyway, willingly oblivious to the infinitesimally tiny chance that the charred spot will glow in the wake of a brief, blinding fire just one more time.
Jane’s Addiction was lightning, but that’s only because of the perfect storm of circumstances that band found itself in: A charismatic lead singer, fully competent backing players, an accidentally catchy humongous hit single, a willingness to push the envelope of their art in a visual manner as well as an aural one, and a time period in which the general public just wasn’t prepared for a band like that all combined with the fact that Jane’s Addiction had a couple of solid, well-written, flat-out rocking albums. Just about any fan of rock music who was alive in the late ‘80s and mid-‘90s can recite “Been Caught Stealing”, or “Jane Says”, or even “Stop!” almost verbatim, as these are songs that are now part of the Rock ‘n Roll Canon, respected as much for the shift in sound that they helped usher in as the quality of the music itself.
After a long breakup/hiatus, Jane’s addiction reformed in 2003, new bassist Chris Chaney in tow, and released the much-maligned Strays. It was an album that, while the songs sounded good, was suddenly of (or even behind) the times, thus stripping the band of the aura that defined its late-‘80s heyday. Of course, they broke up again soon after.
The Panic Channel, then, is this 2003 incarnation of Jane’s Addiction (minus Perry Farrell), trying to recapture the magic of the glory days by “moving on”—recruiting one former MTV VJ Steve Isaacs of the little-known Skycycle as the de facto replacement for Farrell, and writing music that would seem to fit comfortably among the rest of the current modern rock scene. The problem is, most of (ONe), The Panic Channel’s long-in-the-making debut, would have fit far better in the scene of five to ten years ago, when bands like Staind and Soundgarden were still bona fide money makers, when Dave Navarro still had relevance that had nothing to do with a hosting spot on a struggling NBC reality show. Steve Isaacs sounds like a hybrid of Rob Halford and Chris Cornell, a metal singer with modern rock feelings, someone who can croon and scream just fine, but doesn’t do either with any sort of self-identity other than that it’s the only way he knows how. The remnants of Jane’s Addiction behind him play to that voice, giving the band a composite sound not unlike grunge, but one that occasionally decides to try and fit in with the modern metal revolution.
Occasionally, it even works quite well, particularly toward the beginning of the album—the sensitive-guy one-two-punch of “Bloody Mary” and “Why Cry” actually establishes itself as catchy, particularly the major-key, vaguely empowering Failure-esque wall of sound that the latter track manages to put together. Opener “Teahouse of the Spirits”, despite the laughable title, is a competent and screamable rewrite of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline”, and the majority of “Said You’d Be” could well induce jumping around the room and breaking stuff, even if it sounds like Isaacs decided to add new lyrics to Jane’s Addiction’s own “Stop!” for much of the song.
In fact, it is the very problem insinuated by those last two examples that, for the most part, keeps the Panic Channel from creating anything that will capture our imagination for longer than the few minutes it takes to listen to any one of these songs. Too often, the band sounds like something we’ve heard before, thus making us long for the authentic originals rather than these admittedly skilled imitations. Bands like the Panic Channel might as well be tribute bands, dedicated to a time long gone, dedicated to a sound that has had its day and passed quietly.
But then… the last proper song on (ONe) is called “Lie Next to Me” (the final, untitled track whose main feature is a large crowd counting to 13 doesn’t count), and it is entirely a cappella. Isaacs sings this poignant little love song with only a chorus of ooohs and ahhhs backing him up in block chords, no percussion, no silly vocal effects, simply the sound of many voices, all of which may well be his own. Shoved at the end of a largely unremarkable album, it’s a sublime little oddity that could make fine mixtape fodder. And this is where (ONe) is at its most frustrating: There are these flashes of talent—most of them don’t last an entire song like “Lie Next to Me” does, but they’re in there—that make it sound as though the Panic Channel very well could amount to something more. They’re moments that make it sound as though Jane’s Addiction could one day turn into the jumping-off point for these guys, rather than the standard against which they’re measured for the rest of their respective careers.
(ONe) isn’t the lightning we’ve been waiting for. Still, it may well be enough to convince us to keep watching.