Dave Navarro

GUEST REVIEW: Jane’s Addiction – Jane’s Addiction (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

JANE’S ADDICTION – Jane’s Addiction (1987 Triple X)

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”
2. “Whores”
3. “Pigs in Zen”
4. “1%”
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

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REVIEW: Gene Simmons – Asshole (2004)

GENE SIMMONS – Asshole (2004 EMI)

 

This unfortunately titled album is easily the worst music that Gene has ever put his name on, and that’s saying something. Sprinkled within are some good ideas hither and yon, but by and large this is pretty much shite.

Have you seen the album cover?  Am I the only one who thinks that Gene bears an unsightly resemblance to Danny DeVito’s character from Big Fish?

If Asshole wasn’t choked down in production, it might have had a couple listenable songs.  “Sweet & Dirty Love” would be a killer opener. I believe this one is a Kiss reject. It sounds like it probably was, being one of the few rock songs on the album. “Firestarter” is a horrible, horrible cover, and the unfortunate first single. I have no idea why Gene thought it was a good idea to cover a Prodigy song, but this is also the same guy who covered “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Dave Navarro — lead guitar. (Who cares?)

“Weapons Of Mass Destruction” and “Waiting For The Morning Light” are both Kiss rejects. “Morning Light” as a ballad rejected from the Revenge album, co-written by Bob Dylan. (Not the lyrics though.) It’s nothing special, and that’s why it didn’t make the Revenge album, I guess.

“Beautiful” is non-descript and not memorable in any way. The title track “Asshole” is a catchy song, albeit a total novelty that only makes my road CDs today because it is somewhat funny. It’s a cover too, by the way.  (“Bucket full of pee”?  Seriously?  That’s a lyric?)

Bob Kulick (longtime Kiss collaborator since the early days) co-wrote “Now That You’re Gone”, another song that fails to stick in the memory. I couldn’t even tell you how it goes anymore.  Better is “Whatever Turns You On”, with its catchy sing-along chorus. Unfortunately, this pop song sounds like…God, like Sugar Ray or somebody from the 90’s that we’d rather forget.

“Dog”, co-written by somebody named Bag (a Simmons Records protege I think) is another unremarkable track. I couldn’t hum it for you if you held a knife to my neck. “Black Tongue”, however is remarkable. It is remarkable because it is, somehow, a lost Frank Zappa tape that Gene resurrected and wrote a song around. That’s Frank on guitar. The Zappa family sang on it. Now, I have no idea what the hell Gene had to do with Frank Zappa. I really know of no history there.  They are diametrically opposed musically. I love Frank. It’s great that Gene found a way to get some Frank music out there, but weird that it’s in such a contrived manner. Frank’s guitar is, of course, like butter.

“Carnival Of Souls” is another Kiss reject. It was written I believe for Revenge, considered as a bonus track for Alive III, rejected for the Carnival Of Souls album (though it lent its name to it) and rejected again for Psycho Circus. Four times rejected: Gene, take the hint! It’s because the song kinda sucks!  Its chorus jars awkwardly against the rest of the song, sounding like a different animal completely.

“If I Had A Gun” is another novelty song, but probably the best song on the whole album. It’s catchy, it’s fun, but again it sounds like some 90’s band that we’d all rather forget. Len, maybe.  Name a band, fill in the blank, I’m sure you can figure out a band that this sounds like. “1,000 Dreams” is this album’s “When You Wish Upon A Star”, just pure drivel, garbage, not worth playing.

And that’s the album. There’s also a clean version with no swearing, but what’s the point?

1.5/5 stars