Jane's Addiction

    Jane's Addiction (Triple X, 1987)
      Nothing's Shocking (Warner Bros., 1988)
     Ritual de lo Habitual (Warner Bros., 1990)
   Kettle Whistle (Warner Bros., 1997)
    Strays (2003, Capitol)
   Up From the Catacombs: The Best Of Jane's Addiction (2006, Capitol)
   A Cabinet Of Curiosities (2009, Rhino)

If Kurt Cobain was the Messiah of the Nineties rock revival, Perry Farrell was its John the Baptist. Brash, colorful, decadent, and unwilling to be ignored, he and his band Jane's Addiction came among the hair–metal dandies of the late-Eighties and announced to any that would hear that a new world was dawning. The Los Angeles–based JA sounded the trumpet with a fury of hard-rock riffage, punk swagger, and glam rock star charisma, attracting a sizable following before Farrell erected a temple in the form of the groundbreaking Lollapalooza road show. And through a history plagued by drugs, tempestuous personality clashes, breakups, and reunions, the music always transcended its time.

That heady future was not entirely apparent from the work of Psi Com, the goth-glam band from which New York refugee Farrell (born Perry Bernstein) emerged to team with guitar prodigy Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery, and drummer Stephen Perkins. Early Jane's shows were marked by Farrell's tortured-cat wails and the band's Led Zeppelin–leaning dub drones. But by the time of 1987's indie live debut, recorded at the famed Roxy Theatre, the music had started to coalesce around Farrell's lyrical observations of seedy Hollywood bohemia, notably on the acoustic real-life portrait "Jane Says," with Perkins' steel drums giving the song a distinctive signature sound. Farrell soon gained a reputation for outrageous statements in interviews, and the band became the object of a significant major-label bidding war, eventually signing a deal with Warner Bros. that gave the band total artistic control.

The band's debut full-length Nothing's Shocking is often stunning. Hardcore fans will argue correctly that the studio version of "Jane Says" is flat compared to the previous live take, but "Ocean Size," "Mountain Song," "Had a Dad," and "Standing in the Shower… Thinking" are towering clashes of slinky Zeppelin thunder with personal/poetic imagery recalling Lou Reed. The 1990 followup, Ritual de lo Habitual, produced the sly glam-rocker "Been Caught Stealing," which remains a rock radio staple to this day. And the sprawling sex-liberation odes "Three Days" and "Then She Did..." with Navarro's snaking guitar lines matched by guest Charles Bisharat's violin (on "Three Days") stand as peaks not just for Jane's, but for new rock of the era.

But as the new age came into being, the pressures and distractions mounted, starting with Farrell's role in creating Lollapalooza—the band's slot headlining the inaugural 1991 edition proved to be a farewell tour. The group split in two, Farrell and Perkins founding Porno for Pyros in 1992 (two solid albums further broadening the Jane's sound), and Navarro and Avery taking the moniker Deconstruction (with one belated 1994 album after Navarro abandoned the project to join the Red Hot Chili Peppers).

The inevitable reunion came in 1997, though without Avery, who vowed never to work with Farrell again, leaving the Chili Peppers' Flea to step in as interim bassist. Marking the occasion was Kettle Whistle, a hodgepodge of unreleased live and demo tracks with four inessential new songs that sounded like, well, a hodgepodge. On stage, though, the band justified its return to action. (A 1999 Perry Farrell compilation, Rev, features both Jane's and Porno hits plus some choice rarities including a "Been Caught Stealing" remix and the lilting Jane's version of the Grateful Dead's "Ripple.") For the next few years it was on-again, off-again for JA, as both Farrell and Navarro worked on solo projects. In Farrell's case, his reconnection with his Jewish upbringing took the fore, with an ecstatically mystical glow that he married to his love for deejay culture (he took to spinning in clubs and at festivals as DJ Peretz, his Hebrew name). His 2001 solo album Song Yet to Be Sung was a joyful explosion. Navarro's solo Trust No One was a bit more scattered.

Neither made much impact, though, and the two teamed again with Perkins (with former Porno bassist Martyne LeNoble taking over for Flea full time) to tour as Jane's Addiction and record a new album, their first in 13 years. Strays didn't have the L.A. cool or Zeppelinesque adventure and majesty of Shocking and Habitual. But it was still better than half of the rock records in 2003, and proved that their thundering live shows were no illusion, even triumphantly reconquering the Lollapalooza stage on a quick summer jaunt.

Surpising absolutely no one, the band rapidly unraveled into a third breakup, fragmenting out into another typhoon of forgettable solo albums—Perkins and Navarro joined up for one album as brawny post-grunge meatheads The Panic Channel; Perry Farrell formed the much flightier Satellite Party, in which he took his love of cheesy trance music to cring-worthy lows. A final nail in the band's coffin was the greatest hits set Up From The Catacombs, a silly proposition for a group whose discography is basically two essential studio albums, a half-decent comeback LP and a handful of avoidable fan fetish items. And even the most casual fan would be annoyed that it doesn't include either the studio version or the classic live version of retroactive cult hit/jukebox staple "Jane Says."

The band reunited once again in 2008, with original bassist Eric Avery back in the fold for the first time since the days of Doc Martens, nose rings and OK Cola. After accepting the "Godlike Genius Award" from the ever-histrionic British magazine New Musical Express, the band did a victory lap with their original Lollapalooza partners Nine Inch Nails and hit some of the big festivals that have since popped up in Lolla's wake. Accompanying this rush of attention, Rhino released A Cabinet Of Curiosities, a three-disc/one-DVD set of leftovers: demos that reveal exactly nothing about the original songs, long-fan-traded rarities, some cute covers, and a high-quality live recording from Hollywood circa 1990. It's nothing that anyone but the most hardcore Addiction addict would want or need. But at least the packaging (the discs come in an actual wooden cabinet) is kind of cool.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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