Jane's Addiction - "Strays"

Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 9:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 9:39 a.m.

Before Nirvana, before Pearl Jam, before the genre of alternative rock exploded in the mainstream, there was Jane's Addiction. In a meteoric rise from Los Angeles' seedy underground, Jane's won legions of devoted followers in the late `80s with its anarchic art rock - a riotous blend of punk, metal, funk and psychedelic rock that painted gritty tales of unbridled decadence, profane irreverence and warped romanticism.

With the acclaimed releases Nothing's Shocking (1988) and Ritual de lo Habitual (1990), some hailed Jane's as heir apparent to Led Zeppelin in the pantheon of rock gods. Then in an instant, Jane's vanished into an abyss of massive ego. Volatile personalities, coupled with self-indulgent tastes for intravenous drugs, led the quartet to disband after merely four years, devastating fans of their avant-garde music and incendiary live performances.

After resurfacing with mostly outtakes and live cuts on Kettle Whistle (1997) and brief reunion tours in 1997 and 2001, vocalist Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins are back with their third true studio album, Strays. Chris Chaney replaces original bassist Eric Avery, who once again declined invitation to rejoin.

Farrell announces the band's return on Strays with the familiar roar of "Here we go!" as Jane's tears into "True Nature," unleashing a swirling cacophony of metal and funk that seethes with anger. As distrusting of the establishment as ever, Farrell assails self-righteous politicians.

"For all the money in the world / We'll go to war for you backward heroes / Come to rescue you / Just to lien on you / With interests soaring / How you treat the weak is / Your true nature calling / Please believe / We still live and breathe / Through native tongue / And poetry / All those years we believed, yeah / Scoring points with God / Get no perfect marks / But your grades keep falling / How you treat the weak is / Your true nature calling."

Jane's continues its trademark ferocity on "Strays" and "Just Because," with tight waves of crescendos crashing from Farrell's shrill, hypnotic vocals, Navarro's blistering leads, and Perkins' propulsive, tribal drumming. "Price I Pay" showcases the band's versatility, meandering seamlessly through several tempo and mood changes as it moves from a lilting, halcyon introduction to a bombastic ending.

Old school fans will probably take notice of - and possibly cringe at - the mainstream appeal of tracks like "The Riches" and "Superhero." Bob Ezrin, noted for working with Pink Floyd, Kiss and Alice Cooper, leaves his mark on Strays by employing a slick production not found on previous recordings. Albeit cleaner and more polished, Jane's retains its sound and identity throughout the album. The mellow, acoustic introspection of "Everybody's Friend" offers a brief reprieve in tempo, but the band soon surrenders to its predilection for high-voltage rock as "Suffer Some" and "To Match the Sun" bring the album to a close.

The hedonistic excess, contemptuous bravado and brimming sense of danger that defined the early days are mostly absent on Strays, as are the colorful street characters - junkies, whores and thieves - that in part made Jane's so compelling. Predictably, the songwriting reflects more than a decade of maturation. Despite a more tempered lyrical approach, Farrell still delivers hair-raising vocals while Navarro and Perkins prove themselves among the best musicians in the business.

Though lacking a masterpiece as powerful as Ritual's epic "Three Days," Strays places the band back on track of fulfilling its enormous potential, giving devout fans the new material they've been dreaming of for thirteen years. For that, Jane's Addiction deserves a resounding "Thank you, boys."

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