One of the funniest things about Nothing’s Shocking, Jane’s Addiction’s much-ballyhooed 1988 release, was how it skewed the conventions of L.A. Sunset Strip metal, managing to be distinctively perverse in a world already saturated with bad taste and bacchanalia. At times the music was glorious, playful psychedelic metal, as Perry Farrell’s avant-gypsy garb, weird eye makeup and prepubescent voice plugged you into the visionary amorality of children. With its trippy nature imagery and porno bent, Nothing’s Shocking struck the gong.
Ritual de lo Habitual finds Jane’s Addiction thin and wandering, blowing ploys that worked before — overdubs and echoes, loose jamming, Farrell’s playground melodies. Split into a hard-rockin’ side and a prog-rock side, the album doesn’t cohere — whatever the band members have been doing for the last two years, they haven’t been practicing much. Sure, there are moments — the opener, “Stop,” has an amazing bridge, “Ain’t No Right” admirably sums up Farrell’s creed (“Ain’t no right/Ain’t no wrong/There’s just pleasure and pain”) and “Been Caught Stealing” is a real jewel. A shuffling, upbeat bouncer with silly jazz chords and the best use of dog barks since Pet Sounds, the song expresses a bare logic of desire (“I want something and don’t want to pay for it”) that makes shoplifting seem as fun as collecting tadpoles.
Side 2’s miasma begins with “Three Days,” which starts out as fine, tempo-twisting bongload metal but loses it after Stephen Perkins’s great percussion solo. I haven’t been able to get through the rest of the side without nodding out — the dreaminess is pleasant enough, but I expected more. Unlike King’s X or Faith No More, Jane’s Addiction hasn’t figured out that a successful prog-metal fusion requires tightness. The great bits here — gypsy fiddles, “Aladdin Sane” piano flurries, strange lyrics about crickets’ bones and an erotic Jesus — are overwhelmed by meandering vocal melodies, orchestral keyboards and David Navarro’s rote guitar wanking. Two-thirds of the way through, Ritual de lo Habitual starts sounding like a fourteen-hour layover in Kashmir, a long-distance runaround with only Juggs magazine and a pack of purple Bubblicious to pass the time.