Quick — name the last time Perry Farrell and company released a studio album. Or, for that matter, try to recall how expansive the Jane’s Addiction discography actually is. Neither question is easy to answer, and for good reason: Despite being commonly accepted as founding fathers of the alternative music scene, the ’80s-era band has actually delivered just three records in its long career, the last one in 2003. Somehow, though, Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro have become deified names in the religion of alt-rock, leaving two possible explanations: Either the Farrell-produced Lollapalooza catapulted Jane’s Addiction far beyond the band’s deserved stature, or those three albums were the musical equivalent of the Triple Crown. After hearing the band’s fourth effort, The Great Escape Artist, one could claim it was a little bit of both.
The Great Escape Artist
As the album begins with “Underground,” that old familiarity sets in rather quickly — cue the heavy atmosphere, through which Farrell’s distinctively airy voice cuts like a well-timed zephyr. “I’m a hustler,” he sings, “I’ll never give up the underground.” And so goes the rest of the record — Farrell tries to pretend that he isn’t the grand organizer of a blockbuster festival in three different countries, or the only performer whose legend includes appearances at every Coachella to date. Instead, like on the ensuing “End to the Lies,” he yearns to be the same drug-addled showman who took it upon himself to create the band’s edginess. But even as he sings, “I think that you’re in love with me / Yeah you do it’s true man, you’re busted,” it’s difficult to shake the image of Farrell delivering the lines to a mirror in some Los Angeles mansion.
Though each band member has surpassed at least his 40th birthday (with the frontman cracking his ’50s), that characteristic rhythm is undeniably intense. “Irresistible Force (Met The Immovable Object)” is just that — a contagious tune that gathers momentum like it’s progressing along a downhill slalom. With a steam-engine percussion line and Farrell’s exalting lyrics, the track alone is enough to do justice to the band’s pedigree. However, “Twisted Tales” follows in its trail — Navarro drops a few reverberating cuts as Farrell seems to address some past demon.
Though The Great Escape Artist tends to be fairly formulaic, “Broken People” is a well-executed deviation from the “rock, rinse and repeat” blueprint. The doleful song expresses remorse through visions of upper-class families and sex videos — admittedly not an easy task. But it’s through Navarro’s harnessed and sublimely clean riffs that “Broken People” allows itself to drive home the emotion.
For a band that boasts two supposedly permanent break-ups, Jane’s Addiction has a sound (and, more importantly, Farrell’s voice) that has stayed remarkably consistent. As all things must change over time, so too has Jane’s Addiction — but not much. Like the maturing of other youthful rebel rockers (looking at you, Green Day), Perry Farrell’s crew has shown that it can withstand the test of aging, if not without a little loss of edge. The Great Escape Artist may not stand on the same ledge as Nothing’s Shocking or Ritual de lo Habitual, but the new material is still a welcome addition to a surprisingly small body of work.