[23 April 2009]
As many of us aging Gen-X’ers can attest, Jane’s Addiction was truly the closest our generation has come to having its own Led Zeppelin. That is, however, if the classic rock titans were more inspired by the concept of being a cross between “Duke Ellington and Bad Brains”, as frontman Perry Farrell once described them, than Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. They were the absolute quintessence of Los Angeles rock, combining everything from the Lizard King shamanism of the Doors to the gutter punk glory of the Germs to the Sunset Strip bombast of Too Fast tor Love-era Motley Crüe to the contemplative beauty of the early ‘70s Laurel Canyon sound, cut in perfect little lines on a makeup mirror and snorted up the collective nose of a legion of young rock fans in desperate need for a reprieve from the overwrought theatrics of the Hollywood hair metal circuit.
Seeing this band hobble through the last ten years on three legs with a variety of square wooden pegs trying to substitute for the original appendage that is founding bassist Eric Avery has been as sad and pathetic a scene as watching the little pooch wheeling around on that butt chariot in Babe: Pig in the City. Truth is, regardless of who they had put in there to replace him, be it Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or that clown they hired for their forgettable 2003 “comeback” album Strays, nobody could capture the mood quite like the low-end theory of Avery, whose moody, distinctive bass lines on such Jane’s Addiction classics as “Summertime Rolls” and “Three Days” have since proven to be virtually impossible to both imitate and duplicate, regardless of how skilled the substitute may be. His bass is detrimental to the crux of the sound and the songwriting of Jane’s Addiction, proven by the fact that just about every post-Jane’s project he has done in the last 18 years, from Deconstruction, his terribly underrated 1994 side project with old bandmate Dave Navarro to his little-heard late ‘90s group Polar Bear to his 2008 solo debut Help Wanted, arguably towers over anything and everything his former band mates were involved in outside of the original band (yes, kids, including Porno for Pyros).
So when the news broke that the original Jane’s lineup was reuniting for the first time since 1991 to play L.A.’s El Rey Theater in acceptance of the NME’s “Godlike Genius” Award, you could have cut the excitement generated by the din of aging 30somethings of the one-time alternative nation with a jailhouse shank. Then, earlier this year, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor announced on his website that he will spend his summer touring with the original Jane’s Addiction line-up and has been working in the studio with them, so far recording and releasing two new tracks, studio versions of “Chip Away” and “Whores”, originally released on their 1987 eponymous debut on the Triple X label. They are part of a six-song tour sampler featuring new music from NIN and tour opener Street Sweeper Social Club, a new band featuring Tom Morello of Rage/Audioslave fame and Boots Riley of the Coup, which can be found at www.ninja2009.com.
So in the wake of this positive buzz, the timing could not be more perfect for Rhino’s release of A Closet Full of Curiosities, an elaborate, limited edition three-CD/one-DVD box that basically serves as a massive revision of Jane’s 1991 Japanese import Live and Rare. Or, better yet, compensation for Kettle Whistle, that piddly, slapdash odds-n-sods set Warner Bros. released in 1997 to cash in on the band’s short-lived reunion with Flea. Housed in an intriguing replication of a wooden curio cabinet that features not only the four discs but also a wealth of recreated memorabilia, including ticket stubs, old show fliers, set lists and what looks like strange little Voodoo-like figurines, this is the ultimate Jane’s Addiction fanboy collection.
As far as the musical content, any diehard Jane’s Addiction fan growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s most certainly owned the majority of this stuff, which was dispersed across various singles, imports and grossly overpriced bootlegs purchased at shadier record shops across the nation. However, to have it all in one definitive anthology, all remastered and remixed to sound better than any of this material has ever sounded (especially the wealth of demos dispersed over the entire first disc and half the second—including their earliest recordings from Radio Tokyo Studios in Venice circa 1986), is something that everyone who still hold Jane’s close to their heart would treasure.
A Cabinet of Curiosities also contains some great lost b-sides and other Warner-sanctioned nuggets, including their legendary “L.A. Medley”, which they tackle the Doors’ “L.A. Woman”, X’s “Nausea” and the Germs’ “Lexicon Devil” in just under four minutes, not to mention a veteran from the Live and Rare compilation. Also featured is the band’s great riff on Sly Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” with Ice-T and his Body Count co-hort, guitarist Ernie C., “Ripple”, the band’s last proper studio recording of the original line-up that appeared on an otherwise weak 1991 Grateful Dead tribute album called Deadicated and some great previously unreleased stuff like a live cover of the Stooges’ Funhouse jam “1970” that dates back to 1987 and a Nothing’s Shocking-era live staple where Farrell would sing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” over the band playing Bauhaus’ “Burning from the Inside”, which they call “Bobhaus”.
The third disc is the full release of the October 11, 1990 Milan, Italy show that was recorded for MTV Italy, perhaps the finest testament available, outside of seeing them in concert for yourselves, as to how insane Jane’s Addiction was live. Some of these tracks were used for the single to Ritual De Lo Habitual’s epic ballad “Classic Girl”, most famously a rip-snorting take on “Ain’t No Right”, where at the end the song Perry goes off on a guy who tosses a Birkenstock sandal at his head. “1%” and “Whores” off the Triple X album were played that night, as were an onslaught of Shocking and Ritual highlighted by a furious run through Ocean Size” and and a transcendent performance of their “Kashmir”, “Three Days”, by far the greatest song ever written about a ménage a trios.
The DVD marks the official digital release of Jane’s 1988 video Soul Kiss, filmed around the video to their Nothing’s Shocking anthem “The Mountain Song”, which includes amateur film of the band at their most fucked-up. These guys were clearly out of their brains, chemically and naturally it seems, proof positive in footage of Farrell and girlfriend Casey Niccoli shooting off a bottle rocket in their bedroom, Dave Navarro smacking his pet eel repeatedly on a table, Eric Avery giving a book review on the toilet and Stephen Perkins eating an apple for the very first time in his life. However, the acoustic Elsewhere on the DVD are the band’s videos, among them “Stop!”, “Been Caught Stealing” and “Had a Dad”, all of which will surely bring you back to your days staying up late to watch 120 Minutes. The MTV Milan concert is represented by only three taped performances for “Whores”, “Then She Did…” and “Three Days”, all of which provide ample visual accompaniment to the live CD, although one must wonder if the entire concert was filmed or just these three songs.
The best thing about A Cabinet of Curiosities is that it focuses primarily on the original line-up of Jane’s Addiction. It’s as though anything that occurred between the moment the band initially broke up after touring the country headlining the first Lollapalooza to the NME Awards never even happened. Yea, “Superhero” is a great TV theme song, but nothing on that Strays album could ever touch anything achieved by the original quartet. And if those rumors about Reznor working on a whole new album with them are true, well here’s hoping there’ll be enough creative productivity to merit a second raid of the Jane’s Addiction cabinet in the future. So long as it’s with Eric Avery, that is.