Guest review by Holen MaGroin
In 1987, the stage was set for a new exciting sound to challenge the successful glam metal scene. Some thought that metal had become gluttonous and bloated, filled with commercial aspirations that betrayed the genre’s roots. The alternative revolution started not with Nirvana’s Nevermind, but four years earlier when Jane’s Addiction chose to begin their recording career in an unorthodox way. They decided to make their debut LP a live album. Several of the songs on this live album would never be re-recorded for a studio LP, leaving these the only official versions of the songs. At the height of the glam metal craze, Jane’s Addiction was a much needed breath of fresh air in the rock world. Many different styles of rock were being played on the Sunset Strip, but up to this point only the more pop-oriented groups were receiving mainstream attention. This self-titled album at points is a heavier, more aggressive album than a lot of the stuff that was being passed off as “metal” at the time, without actually being metal. At other points, it displays an emphasis on songwriting depth over quick catchy gang chorus melodies. The ballads on this album are of an organic nature, and acoustic guitars play a dominant role in the proceedings.
Jane’s Addiction is an emotionally honest offering. It is a very passionate and energetic recording that shows the full dynamic of the band better than any of their later releases. While their first two studio albums are superior efforts overall, they don’t display the many different influences of the group’s sound as clearly as they do on this record. While they would distill those influences into something truly unique and original on Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, this eponymous album shows the influences spread out further into different songs, offering a unique glimpse into what makes the band’s later material tick. Compare the brash speedy opener “Trip Away” with the earnest bass driven ballad “I Would for You”. Or the dirty distorted Zeppelin style struts of “Pigs in Zen” with the acoustic roots rock of “My Time”. It’s a unique experience that doesn’t at all feel like a band trying to find their footing, but one that is about to achieve their full potential.
This concert at The Roxy Theatre captures them as raw as the band would ever be. The recording isn’t stellar, but the production fits the music quite well. The music is emotionally raw and open, so the recording should and does match. Some studio overdubs were utilized during post-production, but these don’t bother you in a way that they would on another live album. Despite being recorded live, Jane’s Addiction doesn’t feel like a conventional live record in the way it progresses. This recording was meant to be an introduction to the band, and it seems as though they thought that the best way to capture the pure power of their sound would be to record the basics in a live setting, while enhancing the recordings with additional guitars, drum parts, and things of that nature to create a hybrid. You get the power of a live recording, with the addition of multiple guitars to hold down the rhythm when Dave Navarro takes a solo. These overdubs aren’t deceitful, because the band doesn’t make any effort to conceal them. They are simply meant to augment to original recording, to give the songs the best possible presentation on the band’s first outing.
The songs themselves are superb. Jane’s Addiction had a well of talent from all four members. In the inspired tribal beats of Stephen Perkins, who is better described as a percussionist than as a drummer. In the urgent bass lines of Eric Avery, whose playing propels the songs along and keeps them from plodding. In the great feeling of Dave Navarro, who isn’t the flashiest player, but knows how to fill space and throws in some of his tastiest soloing to the aggressive punkish “Whores”, one of the heaviest tunes on here that blends the aforementioned punk influences with a metallic sheen and a good portion of spirited melodic vocal chants from Perry Farrell that call to mind a world music influence. Perry Farrell’s voice is more aggressive and gravelly on this recording compared to his screechy sound on later albums. He’s not a great singer, but he possesses a unique voice that sells the material with conviction. His lyrical abilities are also superlative, with many of them being very personal.
Nowhere is this more evident than on “Jane Says”, an early version of the song that would later become their biggest hit on Nothing’s Shocking. The song is just two chords, yet the words tell a tale that is so entrancing that it maintains attention throughout its entire run time. It’s a song about a real life woman that Perry Farrell knew named Jane, and her struggle with drugs and abusive relationships. The re-recorded version is superior, but it’s interesting to hear how the song got its start. It conveys a message that many living in modern society can relate with. The feelings of being so overwhelmed and disenfranchised with your current way of life that simple change is not enough to satisfy you. You feel as though you need to completely overhaul your life, and leave what you have behind to start a new beginning in a foreign land “…Jane Says I’m going away to Spain…”, but practical reasons keep you from fulfilling that daydream “…when I get my money saved…”. It’s truly an alt-rock classic, proving that you don’t need hundreds of layers of backing vocals to write a song that connects with people.
To offer their fans an even greater connection to the music, they use familiarity in two spirited covers. Lou Reed’s “Rock & Roll”, and Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, known here as simply “Sympathy”. These cover versions are done in the band’s style, and actually expand upon the originals thanks to Dave Navarro’s perfectly melodic playing in “Rock & Roll” and the unmistakable percussive backbone from Stephen Perkins in “Sympathy”. All the band’s strengths come together on“My Time”, one of the finest selections on the entire album. It’s a folksy rock song with acoustic guitar and harmonica parts, complimented by the perfect amount of percussive flair. This song is more melodic than many of the others on the album, and gives the listener a transcendent feeling. It’s one of those songs that is so beautiful and so moving that it makes the listener feel as though they’ve broken through some new musical barrier, and are floating in a state of emotional and sonic bliss. “My Time” is even more potent when listened to on headphones, and under the dark cover of the night.
As the night wears on, the record bookends “Trip Away” with “Chip Away”, containing some tribal beats and appropriate African influenced chanting from Perry Farrell. While Jane’s Addiction would garner endless acclaim for their first two studio efforts for Warner Brothers, this independent live debut on Triple X would go sadly overlooked. The band can be considered the alternative spiritual successor of Led Zeppelin. However, their music and style is clearly their own. They capture the transcendental sprawl, intensity, and intimacy of listening to a Led Zeppelin album in a way that copycats like Kingdom Come or Greta Van Fleet cannot.* Those two bands and others like them can ape Zeppelin riffs, vocal styles, and stage moves, but they don’t capture that unique and adventurous feeling that listening to one of their records always brings. Jane’s Addiction manages to capture that feeling three times over, with the first of those three times being on this absolutely enchanting live outing.
4.9/5 stars (only because the next two are even better)
1. “Trip Away”
3. “Pigs in Zen”
5. “I Would for You”
6. “My Time”
7. “Jane Says”
8. “Rock n Roll” (Velvet Underground cover)
9. “Sympathy” (Rolling Stones cover)
10. “Chip Away”
* LeBrain agrees