Perhaps there’s some magic in the fact that The Great Escape Artist was recorded through the same console that helped give birth to Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual. Maybe Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins needed some new creative blood in Jane’s proverbial veins, a kick-to-the-system motivator to double down and do that voodoo that they do so well once more.
Whatever the cause, they’ve succeeded inspiringly. Recorded with producer Rich Costey earlier this year, Jane’s Addiction‘s fourth proper studio album and first in eight years is as intoxicating, daring and seductive as one would hope from a band whose legacy and impact have remained constant through two decades of domination, destruction, breakups, reunions, relapses and a revolving door of bassists that have both buoyed and anchored the band’s longevity at varying times.
With TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek lending a hand on both bass and contributing songwriter duties, the fourth-member concern has been at least temporarily abated. Adding electronic textures, synths, MIDI and various new effects, Sitek’s presence as the new low-end flavor and color man acts as an illuminating B-12 revitalizer for a band facing the nearly insurmountable odds of honoring and building on their own legend. He serves the sound tremendously well, a welcome and fascinating accelerator for the band’s continuing evolution.
Yes, Jane’s has changed. Celebrate the new horizons. The freak carnival is no longer flaunted as a lead flavor, but rather flexed as a naturally recurring thread in an upgraded sonic tapestry. A new spell is cast on these ten tracks, reconnecting with the gypsy eroticism that may have been lacking from Strays (though the album was terrific in its own right), while moving the fuller focus to sound expansion and seasoned existentialist perspective that’s free of the awkward nostalgia that burdens some of the band’s contemporaries.
On their own as lead-ins to the album, tracks “End To The Lies” and “Irresistible Force” sparked concerns of a Sting-era transition, where the ethereal took a front seat to the dangerous gravity, and the impact of the group’s dynamic spark seemed diminished as a result. In context, such is not the case with either. Free of the weight of representation of the whole, neither track ask to be skipped as the album proceeds. For the otherworldly elegance of “End To The Lies,” the band collaborated with the master musicians of Joujouka, Sufi trance musicians from northern Morocco.
The attentiveness to arrangement is a true asset to the record, shifting tempos and rhythms alongside instrumental focus to keep the listener engaged. “Curiosity Kills” comes in like an unseen chopper, dropping a deep bassline cargo before Perry and the pianos arrive, setting the imminent-danger atmospheric groundwork for a thundering-percussion chorus that literally dissolves into a revved-up second verse. The keys morph to the forefront, the chorus circles back quickly, and the riptide has us locked long before we realize, before the drowning embrace of the tremendous bass-led breakdown takes total control on the way to a finish that would make U2 nervous. There is no overstating the simplistic, hypnotic power of that bassline.
The title of “I’ll Hit You Back” belies the nearly-teasing sweetness of the track (particularly the chorus), while Navarro’s desert-melancholy guitars on the dystopian “Twisted Tales” set the tone for Farrell’s dark redemption through the arms of a woman. A build, a leap, a moment of soaring flight, before a descent into an acoustic-led bridge guides us through the cliffhanger climax.
Jane’s puts more than a little Floyd under their tongue for “Splash a Little Water On It,” an extravagantly designed electro-psychedelic world and lamentation on a friend’s treatment of a delicate girl: “I have to tiptoe around so as not to make a loud sound / What you put her through, look and her/ try not to wake up the girl / What was she thinking, trying to keep up with you, every habit you have? Ohh It’s cause she loves you, so don’t tell her she’s not lookin’ so good / Just splash a little water on it / See what you’re working with / Splash a little water on it / See if it comes alive…” An understandable progression of mind from a man whose (arguably) best song is about a 72-hour marathon threesome.
A pendular bass leading the track into a squealing, lengthy solo from a Navarro, rounding the corner to an outro that’s indicative of a songwriting maturity beyond the early-days material by which the rest of their work is measured. This continues through the piano-turned-guitars anthem “Broken People,” a slow-dance dream uniting us all in trauma, completely removed from the stylistic palette of Jane’s Addiction. This track will polarize fans, for sure – but it’d make a damn fine soundtrack to Sunday-morning sleepy sex. Skip church, turn off the phone, hit the joint, press play, get back in bed and do what comes naturally.
Each member has brought a little more to the table than we’ve come to expect. Perkins is all over the kit, a polyrhythmic powerhouse beneath a truly revitalized Navarro, who seems determined to prove a new potency – at which he succeeds righteously. And Perry, well. Perry’s the ringleading firestarter soul megaphone of greatness he’s always been. His throat has yet to falter, his spirit yet to break, his hedonistic bag of tricks and treats still in tune with just the right frequency to pull this entire thing together. Few men earn words such as “sage” or “visionary,” let alone both simultaneously. But Farrell’s vampirically youthful spirit and consistency of quality is what keeps us locked in the habit after all these years.
Telling an interviewer how he lost his voice at the onset of “10 Words Right Out Of My Mouth,” the frontman hoarsely lulls the expectations to maximize impact of the untethered, manic album closer. An unpredictable galloping funk blast with shades of their co-chairs on the Venice Kings throne – Red Hot Chili Peppers – the song is everything we’d hope for in a modern day Jane’s Addiction; Jeering, rambunctious and clever, the trap doors and attitude send us off with hearts racing and hips shaking, suddenly thrilled that the “repeat playlist” box has been checked. Here we go again…
CraveOnline Rating: 9 out of 10