About a year ago when “Rock Star: INXS” made its debut, I watched it for the first time with my sister. She commented on how Dave Navarro, the co-host, was an unnecessary addition on the show and I replied with a, “Dave Navarro is always unnecessary.” As soon as I uttered it, I realized that wasn’t always the case for poor Dave Navarro who is now relegated to being Mr. Carmen Electra. It got me thinking that, for a whole generation of people, that’s who Dave Navarro is, and Perry Farrell is just some guy who organizes Lollapalooza. Forget about asking them who Stephen Perkins or Eric Avery is. Jane’s Addiction is some band that wrote “Been Caught Stealing” (a borderline novelty song) and “Jane Says.” Never mind that they were one of the most innovative, exciting and unpredictable bands to come out of Los Angeles in the late ’80s.
If you get me to start talking about music, it’s inevitable that I’ll mention my older sister. She was coming of age during the late ’80s and early ’90s and her listening habits formed my tastes in music. It’s no coincidence that bands that I heard coming out of her room are some of my favorite bands today: The Replacements, Nirvana, Violent Femmes, Hüsker Dü, etc. One album that she played frequently was Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking. I remember looking at the album cover and being, for lack of a better word, shocked by the bare breasts and thinking “this is so weird.” Looking at the cover now, I think that Perry Farrell couldn’t have designed a better cover for this album. It’s attention grabbing, daring, audacious, raw and just a little overblown and pretentious, all which you could say about the album itself.
The album opens with Eric Avery’s exquisite bass line on “Up the Beach.” It throbs and pulsates through the song and along with Stephen Perkins’ powerful and pounding drums makes for one of the best and underrated rhythm sections in rock. “Up the Beach” is dreamy and epic which soothes the listener and introduces a sonic landscape that’s one part funk, one part metal and two parts pure artistic expression. “Ocean Size” starts with a melodic acoustic guitar but then suddenly explodes with a rush of music coming at you like a tidal wave. It’s unpredictable moments like that which never makes listening to Jane’s Addiction boring. It’s in “Ocean Size” that you can gauge Navarro’s talent as a guitarist. The solos are pretty great and never get to point where I roll my eyes and say “enough.”
Years before Sufjan Stevens presented his song on John Wayne Gacy, Jr., Farrell wrote “Ted, Just Admit It…” A jammy song that at times can be grating and certainly could polarize listeners, the song is a poetic (though in a slightly pretentious, “look at me, I’m so artistic” way) and almost stream-of-consciousness musing on Ted Bundy. This song is probably best known for Perry Farrell’s repetition of “sex. Is. Vio-LENT!!” Then there’s “Mountain Song.” There’s that great bass opening again! Like the tidal wave coming at you during “Ocean Size,” there’s a similar effect in “Mountain Song.” I can hardly listen to it without wanting to headbang, if just for a little bit. What’s great about this song (and for, really, most songs on this album) is that I can practically feel how hard Stephen Perkins is hitting those drums. That power and that energy are so engaging that you can’t help but carried away with them.
Of course, how can I not talk about “Jane Says”? One of the band’s signature songs, it’s also one of the most lovely and heartbreaking songs of that time period. Rock ballad checklist: acoustic guitar? Check. Lyrics about a girl? Check. Soaring chorus? Check and check. Leave to Jane’s Addiction to throw in a curve ball like steel drums. Perry Farrell’s vocals, a polarizing factor for first time listeners, are emotive and unique enough to keep the song from being another rock ballad. The melody is sweet and catchy and aches with the sadness that comes with witnessing someone else’s plight. There will always be one verse that will get me every time:
“Jane says ‘I’ve never been in love – no
she don’t know what is’
she only knows if someone wants her”
It’s heartbreaking every time I hear it and it has, on more than a few occasions been responsible for the “cry lump” in my throat.
Had the album ended there, I would have been a happy girl. “Thank You Boys” is really just a jazzy interlude that doesn’t really add to the album. “Pigs in Zen” is a rather mediocre song if not straight up obnoxious at times, but as a CD only add-on, is really more of a bonus track.
Nothing’s Shocking is at times uneven, overindulgent, and grating but when they’re good, it’s nothing short of amazing. The chances the band takes doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, man, it works. While Jane’s Addiction did manage a cover of Spin a year or so ago, I still find them to be a rather underrated band. I’m a little hard pressed to think of any of my friends (most of whom, like me, are in their early twenties) who even owns a Jane’s Addiction album. For anyone who only knows them from the theme song for “Entourage,” do yourself a favor and listen to Nothing’s Shocking. You’ll discover that there’s so much more to them.
The Cult – Electric
Faith No More – The Real Thing
Smashing Pumpkins – Gish