Jane’s Addiction have always been a bit different. Actually, a lot different. That’s what made their last “comeback” album, 2003’s Strays, somewhat disappointing (though better than expected with 13 years of studio rust to shake off and no Eric Avery). Strays sounded more streamlined and straightforward, the band’s signature quirks and strange digressions between explosions not quite quirky or strange enough. Someone (producer Bob Ezrin?) had molded our canonized art-rockers into, gasp, a rock and roll band, an artistic faux pas akin to asking Jackson Pollock not to drip so much or surrealism-era Picasso to paint anatomically correct. Now, no reasonable Jane’s addict is expecting, or asking for, Nothing’s Shocking… Still or Ritual de lo Dos, but we do want our artsy boys to know that it’s okay to color outside the lines a bit… maybe even a lot.
Eight years, a Satellite Party, and a lot of guitarist mascara later, we find the L.A. alt-rock legends abandoning the sleek, steamrolling bluster of Strays in favor of further forays into frontman Perry Farrell’s preferred electronic realm. And while the DJ Peretz (another Farrell incarnation) leanings may have sent short-lived bassist Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver) scrambling to find a heavier haven, The Great Escape Artist comes as a mostly welcome permutation.
The classic Jane’s rough edges have been smoothed out and coated in electronic confections, but there is a darker, grinding groove beneath that sonic sheen. Lead single “End to the Lies” meanders momentarily before bursting into a not-so-subtle personal put-down that rolls and roars with guitarist Dave Navarro’s more focused fare and Stephen Perkins’ absolutely mesmerizing drumming. “You talk about me so much that I think that you’re in love with me/Yeah, you do, it’s true, man, you’re busted, ” taunts Farrell, a barb he tops moments later by reminding, “You were the foreskin/I was the real head.” It’s brash, petty, and juvenile, and you get the sense that Farrell simply can’t help himself, which is fine. It’s the idiosyncratic and confrontational version of Farrell that gives this vendetta its verve.
Other standouts tap into a similar in-and-out grind, each with its own unique amalgamation of the album’s core elements. “Underground” combines atmospherics reminiscent of a subway tunnel, Navarro’s buzzing crunch and piercing incisions, and Farrell’s layered vocals into an album-opening shove that even briefly captures the tribal feel of primitive Jane’s. Backed by Perkins’ pounding, Farrell takes center stage on second single “Irresistible Force”, speaking, echoing, and flowing into a soaring chorus before abruptly tearing everything down with a coarse “Bangin’ and bangin’… together.”
However, not all of The Great Escape Artist fares quite so well. “I’ll Hit You Back” lacks the “danger” both Navarro and Perkins talked about trying to recapture on this record—that element of not quite knowing where things may go next. But how much peril exists when listeners can tell where all the trapdoors are? “Curiosity Kills” sounds utterly tame sandwiched between “End to the Lies” and “Irresistible Force”; repeated calls for something forceful, aggressive, and raw are met with only ho-hum responses, a problem that plagues other album tracks.
Jane’s round out things with perhaps the record’s two most unlikely inclusions. Aside from a glowing surge mid-song, “Broken People” features a minimally backed Farrell realizing that “you can’t help them out/They’ll break you in two,” a somewhat ironic statement given the song’s uplifting melody, though Farrell seems to have found peace in this conclusion. Closer “Words Right Out of My Mouth” opens with Farrell waxing about the notion of birds swooping down and stealing his voice before launching into the album’s lone barn burner. Neither track fits the album’s schema or ranks as a highlight, but Jane’s have always left room on their journeys for these curious, yet often beautiful, detours.
After repeated listens, The Great Escape Artist sounds more and more like an appropriate title for this record. Jane’s Addiction will probably never entirely escape the shadow of their seminal early albums (a Houdini-like feat, indeed), but by pushing so far in a new direction, in a way, they’ve escaped just enough. They’ve made it okay to get older, move on, and grow.
Essential Tracks: “Underground”, “End to the Lies”, and “Irresistible Force”