When Jane's Addiction first burst on to the scene, it arrived with a purpose. The act came to bury metal, not to praise it. A late-'80s musical landscape still littered with crotch-stuffing, meatheaded, misogynistic hair farmers was ripe for change. And Perry Farrell -- looking like some primal pygmie, pre-op transsexual -- was just the creature for the job. Donning a corset, dreadlocks, goth whiteface and his unique banshee wail, the singer/shaman armed himself with Dave Navarro's monster riffs and the tribal-rhythm team of Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins, and went to work. Combining punk angst with a hippie sensibility, the band covertly infiltrated a vapid music scene with the intent of laying it to waste.
But the operation was only a partial success. The quartet succumbed to its excesses by way of a smack-induced coma before the task was complete, disbanding after its third album. Ultimately, Jane's Addiction only sowed the seeds for the alternative revolution, leaving groups like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney to actually complete the mission years later.
Now, after pulling a rock-and-roll version of Rip Van Winkle, Jane's is back. The band has replaced Avery with Chris Chaney and issued Strays, its first full-length album of new material in thirteen years. Say goodbye to the smack-fueled hedonism, Farrell's painstakingly crafted artwork for album covers and a live show with all the stability of an impending train wreck, and say hello to slickly edited videos, ever-present Navarro muse Carmen Electra and CD packaging with a decidedly self-congratulatory air. After a whirlwind of creative insanity, the godfathers of Lollapalooza are now content.
But with contentment can come clarity. Former producer Dave Jerden was justifiably given the boot, ridding the band of the tin-thin studio sonics most prevalent on Nothing's Shocking. The tone of the new album is fat and adequately raw. Strays also boasts the interesting lyrical wordplay of "Price I Pay" -- which sounds a bit like the classic prog-punk epic "Three Days" -- as well as "The Riches," a catchy little juggernaut, and the single "Just Because," which possesses one of Navarro's most driving and hypnotic riffs. While the spastic-metal lead guitar suffers some sounds oblivious to the current musical climate, the uneven hypersonic seems intent on updating the band's sound. It's one of the few tunes in which the group acknowledges the prospect of competing with its imitators.
The problem with this release is not what is present, but the element of experimentation that is so sorely missing. Strays finds Jane's Addiction awakening after a long hiatus to find the music world finally celebrating the group as something that it no longer is: innovative. With Strays, the group once again fails to complete its mission.
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