Is it my imagination or are Jane's Addiction turning into a parody of U2? (Shakes head, plays album for fifth time, listens to 1988's 'Nothing's Shocking', Jane's' first of - incredibly only - four albums). Yep, there are definitely Edgey sparks of mainstream rock flashing in and out of 'The Great Escape Artist'. Edgey, that is, not edgy.
Jane's were always the dirty, sleazy, alternative misfits, distinctive, bizarre and of questionable sexual persuasion. I'm talking musically (of course), although if you've seen them live, you know they've always kept decidedly decadent company. Like The Tubes but with more rubber and tits (rubbery tits?).
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'The Great Escape Artist' is their second comeback album - first being 2003's 'Strays' - and opens with 'Underground' and 'End To The Lies', which raise expectations of a true old-stylee Jane's album. But there's something missing.
Though these two tracks undeniably hit the heavy mark, Navarro's guitar a gloriously untameable animal, 'TGEA' - as with 'Strays' - lacks the prominent basslines of Eric Avery, so much a part of the Jane's sound on 'Nothing's Shocking' and 'Ritual de lo Habitual' (think 'Mountain Song', 'Three Days', 'No-One's Leaving'). Despite dabbling with various bassists, including Dave Sitek, Chris Chaney and Duff McKagan (who even gets a co-write on three songs), their presence still hasn't plugged the gaping hole of Avery's absence.
Thus, a fair swatch of the album hangs on anthemic, stadium-bound choruslines ('Irresistible Force...', 'Twisted Tales') and ambient technology, allowing 'TGEA' to drift all too often into expansive waves of production trickery. 'I'll Hit You Back', for example, opens with an echoey, jangling guitar that could've come straight off 'The Joshua Tree' (as could the mellow 'Broken People'). In the past, sure, bizarre ambient rituals did abound, but it seems this album leans too heavily on these as a saving grace.
Anyway, not all of 'The Great Escape Artist's smooth veneer has to do with Avery's disappearance. Released on the 20th Anniversary of the Farrell-conceived Lollapalooza US touring circus (by the way), it demonstrates how even the most depraved need to stick their slippered feet up in front of a cosy fire (though doubtless the contents of the pipe remain the same). Even Farrell has a right to grow up. After all, he's openly admitted of the album:
"I love being able to escape my past, even though my past was great. I just love the future even more."
Fair enough. Still, there are only tokens of the "post-punk goth darkness" he goes on to mention. The intro to 'Curiosity Kills' is spookily gothic, the menacing Killing Joke-esque bassline promising much, but then falls short of expectations, relying on a fairly ordinary chorusline to hold it up. 'Ultimate Reason', too, possesses that "post-punk goth darkness", but then plunges into a chorus that, frankly, could've been far more disturbing. I understand the sentiment - love saves - but the delivery lacks conviction from the mouth of such a degenerate soul.
So, thank God for disc 2, live and brutal - the arena in which Jane's, frankly, excel. The inclusion of this proves both positive and negative. Positive, because it shows Jane's at their best (such classics as 'Whores', 'Jane Says', 'Mountain Song'), but negative, because it immediately shows up
the studio album, opening as it does with the distinct bassline of 'Whores', albeit played by Chaney.
Believe me, by the end of this review, I have listened to the studio album more than half a dozen times, and am still hoping it will grow on me. I, too, used to leap around to 'Been Caught Stealing', and am desperately hoping that somewhere, within the digi-grooves of 'The Great Escape Artist', something akin to a spirited jape might jump out and bite me.
I look forward to a good chewing...