Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review catch up: Jane's Addiction - The Great Escape Artist

Jane's Addiction are one of the greatest bands of the last 25 years with two classic albums and if you don't believe that you're either stupid, drunk or never really heard them. As such, I really wanted The Great Escape Artist to be something special but unfortunately it's not and it pains me to write that. As a fan, you root for the artist (especially when they only release albums sporadically) and maybe my expectations are too high but there is something really weird and disconnected about this record. It's an ok listen but when it comes to Jane's, the bar is a little (maybe unfairly) higher.

The original Jane's line up was the product of four distinct styles: Stephen Perkins tribal thump, Dave Navarro's slash and burn guitar style, Eric Avery's driving bass and Perry Farrell's shamanic freak outs. I have long said that the original line up's MVP was Avery whose bass lines provided the foundation that propelled the band and gave the platform for the other players strengths. Avery's refusal to return to the band after the re-formation has left them without this crucial element which has changed the bands sound. On 2003's Strays, the band opted for a metallic rock edge that abandoned the bacchanalian carny eccentricities of their earlier work but it still sounded like Jane's Addiction. The new record has a clutch of songs that don't really sound like the band at all which is disappointing.

While I accept that a band changes over time, what I find surprising is that the band members seem to be running in the opposite direction of what makes them so special. Navarro is sometimes AWOL on this album. While his guitar work can be subtle and textured (something he's great at, listen to Summertime Rolls), what makes him special is that he can go from zero to a billion in a blink of eye and simultaneously play lead and rhythm with passion and emotion. On a number of these tracks (particularly Curiosity Kills), he sounds like the Edge covering a late era Cure song and as any Cure fan knows, that's not necessarily a good thing. Perkins seems to be on a leash, the creativity and brutality of his drumming tempered and understated. Farrell is never less than an interesting vocalist but even he seems to be constrained by the new sound.

The record starts promisingly enough with Underground, a mid paced rocker with an insistent groove and End to the Lies which I figure puts the nail in the coffin of Avery ever returning. Navarro unleashes a shit storm of guitar here that sounds massive and ok, ok I'll even forgive Perry for that line ("You were the foreskin, I was the real head.") This is followed by the aforementioned Cure tribute, Curiosity Kills and the underwhelming second single Irresistible Force. Prior to hearing the song, I imagined a Jane's Addiction song called Irresistible Force would be a barnstorming rockfest - I certainly got that wrong. While pretty, it kind of goes nowhere. I'll Hit You Back is a good song but the music could be any band and the only Jane's stamp on the tune is Perry's vocals. That's the disconnect, where is the Jane's sound?

The songs continue in this vein for a while and I'm not sure whether it's the influence of TVOTR collaborator David Sitek or a conscious move on the band to distance themselves from their signature sound. Ironically, the three most Jane's sounding songs are the one's co-written by Duff McKagen who left the band because of musical differences. The twisting guitars lines of Ultimate Reason, the eerie pathos of Broken People and driving Words Right Out of My Mouth seem to echo the sound that we love. Words Right Out of My Mouth might be a paint-by-numbers Jane's rocker but in the context of this record, it's a relief to hear.

I take no pleasure in writing this and the album is far from offensive. I'll definitely be listening to it in the weeks and months to come. However, when you get a Jane's Addiction record it should be something special and this is a passable entry into their canon but not remarkable. To add insult to injury, the deluxe version has a bonus live show featuring some of their best songs which reminds you how far this record is from their best. Still, go out and buy it - it's probably better than most rock releases this year.

One last thing, Perry really needs to give up doing the covers - just sayin'...


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