Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 9: Jane's Addiction, "Nothing's Shocking"

Artist: Jane's Addiction
Album: Nothing's Shocking
Year: 1988
Label: Warner Bros.

Easily one of the most controversial and influential bands in history, Jane's Addiction are also largely responsible for the existence of the "alternative" rock genre. Masterfully blending together heavy metal with funky punk, as well as incorporating elements of jazz and even folk, Jane's Addiction were one of the wildest and most stunning bands to come out of the mid-1980's club and bar scene of Los Angeles, CA. Taking influences from bands ranging from Velvet Underground to Joy Division to Jimi Hendrix, and injecting it with a heavy, funk-driven mood, their music is like no other band before them. The bands' live performances were also said to be some of the most intense musical experiences ever. Though the band only recorded three albums before calling it quits (using the inaugural Lollapalooza tour as their "farewell tour"), each one of them is nothing short of phenomenal. Though one can attempt to debate the issue, the bands' debut studio record, 1988's Nothing's Shocking, remains one of the greatest and most important albums ever recorded.

Nothing's Shocking is the bands' first studio recording, as their self-titled debut record was recorded live at The Roxy in January of 1987. Along with sensational rock music, Nothing's Shocking is also filled with a great amount of controversy. First and foremost, the albums' cover (which was designed by frontman Perry Farrell) was deemed lewd and nine of the top eleven record retailers refused to carry the record. Eventually, the stores agreed to stock the album, but only on the condition that the record's "offending material" was covered by a brown paper sleeve. The controversy continued when EmpTV refused to air the bands' first video, "Mountain Song" again due to issues with nudity. Once one gets past these silly issues, one can concentrate on the amazingly original and creative music that is found on the album. Though Nothing's Shocking is as much of a rock record as you'll find anywhere, it simultaneously has an unquestionably spacey, almost ethereal feel. The band are masters at creating amazing moods, filled with tension, and then exploding in rock majesty. Even from listening to the music on Nothing's Shocking, one can clearly understand why the band was so sought after by record labels, and why their live shows are held in such legendary regard.

The music of Jane's Addiction tends to be a high-octane, mix of heavy metal and progressive rock, and it often seems as if the band is ready to spiral out of control at any moment. At the center of this controlled mayhem is guitar god, Dave Navarro. Unquestionably one of the most talented and innovative guitarists ever, his combination of speed, style, and stamina are truly second to none. Navarro's amazing diversity in playing his highlighted on the song, "Ocean Size," where he abruptly shifts from gentle, almost acoustic playing to outright shredding. The rhythm section of Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins also stands far above any of their contemporaries. Avery plays perfectly on every track, creating amazingly funky grooves on songs that are so towards "metal" that a groove seems almost impossible. Drummer Stephen Perkins is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing and influential hard rock drummers of all time. When not with Jane's Addiction, Perkins has contributed to albums from bands like Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and Red Hot Chili Peppers among others. Obviously, with the level of talent found within the musicians, the fact that the music is never anything short of superb is, well, nothing shocking (yep, I wrote it). However, the music is also amazingly diverse, and each of the bands' wide range of influences can be heard at different times throughout the record. Aside from the hard rock and funk, the band also brings in what can only be described as a calypso sound on the albums' only single, which topped out at number six on the charts, "Jane Says." The song itself was written about Farrell's roommate, who was battling a serious drug addiction. This is also the source from where the bands' name is derived.

Though it is impossible to find any weak points in the music on Nothing's Shocking, the songs would be nothing without the unmistakable vocals of the Godfather of alternative music, Perry Farrell. Farrell (real name Peretz Bernstein) has a voice and delivery style that are so unique, that it makes every Jane's Addiction song instantly recognizable. His high-pitched, wild voice further the musics' general mood of borderline chaos, and one can easily feel his out of control dancing through his singing. Though most of the time the songs feature Farrell singing his heart out, he sounds exceptionally Jim Morrison-esque during the brilliant spoken section of the song, "Pig's In Zen." It is very much Farrell's charisma that makes him so unique, and the emotion and energy that he conveys in each song is largely unparalleled. The lyrics on Nothing's Shocking were a group process, though Farrell takes all of the writing credits. The process is clear on the song "Had A Dad," as the concept of a song about Avery finding he had a different biological father was given to Farrell, who then constructed the lyrics that are found on the record. Whether they are referencing serial killers ("Ted, Just Admit It"), trying to reach out to their friends ("Jane Says"), or somewhat humorously pondering lifes' great questions ("Standing In The Shower...Thinking..."), the lyrics and singing on Nothing's Shocking are nothing short of perfect.

Jane's Addiction will forever remain one of the most highly respected and equally influential bands in the history of music. Far and away one of the most creative bands of their time, Jane's Addiction took a myriad of musical influences and pushed them into new formations and styles. From this unrelenting and fearless creativity, the band singlehandedly band paved the way for what would become the "alternative" music explosion of the early 1990's. From the blistering guitar of Dave Navarro, to the funky bass of Eric Avery, to the all-out assault on drums by Stephen Perkins, the music on Nothing's Shocking is absolutely some of the best hard rock ever recorded. Adding the captivating vocals of Perry Farrell on top of this phenomenal music launches the band's music, as well as the album, high into the stratosphere, and this sound has turned the band and their music into true legends. Like so many bands that are overflowing with talent and creativity, Jane's Addiction only lasted a few years before calling it quits. However, nearly seventeen years after breaking up, the original lineup of Jane's Addiction reformed, and they have spent much of the past two years touring the world and proving that they and their music are just as powerful and potent as ever. Though every album Jane's Addiction ever released is nothing short of classic, their debut studio recording, 1988's Nothing's Shocking, remains a cornerstone of hard rock and "alternative" rock, and is still just as incredible to experience now as it was upon its initial release.

Standout tracks: "Ted, Just Admit It," "Jane Says," and "Pigs In Zen."

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