MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
Jane's Addiction: Ritual De Lo Habitual
Warner Brothers, 1990
Ah, the days of MTV’s “120 Minutes” BEFORE Nirvana’s “Nevermind” exploded everything, and all that was underground leapt up onto the shiny platters of hungry consumers bibbed and salivating with sharpened knives and forks, ready to take your favorite bands that scared your parents and carve ‘em up into something perhaps a little more palatable, slow down the tempos a notch, make the singer more masculine, have ‘em gasping for the “next Seattle.” The days traversing from the ‘80s into ‘90s, where ironically it seemed like Jane’s Addiction was poised to become the biggest band on the planet and they still looked like the kind of band your folks didn’t want you to hang with, Tipper Gore sweating, “Um don’t they sing about…stealing? They look like a bunch of junkies! That cover, a voodoo threesome, my word!”
This record was one of the albums that shepherded the transition for me from New Jack Swing and hip-hop kid into a devil-horn-throwin’ rock n’ roller. It wasn’t the glam metal that had ruled MTV nor was it three-chord SoCal surf punk, even though they were from L.A. There were power-riffs for sure, large Zeppelin-esque crescendos, galloping drums, driving, almost funky bass, and a singer with a crazy high heliumatic voice that caromed all over the mountains of guitar. There was something sinister, a bit dangerous, almost goth or deathly, about this band. Maybe it was the artwork on both of their records, maybe it was because I knew the story about how Perry Farrell’s girlfriend, to whom this record was dedicated, had died of a heroin overdose, or perhaps it was how forthright they were about being junkies. They were on some kind of death trip and they didn’t mince words, like the interlude before “Aint No Right” with Farrell singing “My sex and my drugs and my rock and roll are all my brain and body need.” Whatever it was, it worked and this record was a huge hit. One might argue that it primed the mainstream audience for Nirvana and the ‘alternative’ rock wave that was to follow.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, I put this record on and hear that sultry female voice in Spanish, “Senores y senoras…” and then that classic punk riff that starts “STOP!” a swirling whirling dervish of a song, an eco-conscious warning, a molotov cocktail to the brain, “turn off that smokestack and that goddamn radio!” and I’m in full-on air-guitar heaven! The first five songs are just ragers, singles ready for the party or the bonfire at the end of the world. The last four are slow-burners and builders, mini-epics, particularly the majestic “Three Days” that starts with Farrell reciting some ominous poetry, a moody enigmatic bass-line (one of my fave bass-lines ever,) and a circular funereal guitar lick, until it builds, first into a loping, driving tribal rhythm and then more build into a soaring from the heavens classic, psych-rock guitar hurricane.
If this was a death trip, I was ready to buy my ticket to ride. (I literally did, going to a couple of the first Lollapaloozas which Farrell curated and finding life-long favorite bands there. Also trying drugs for the first time not long after this album hit.) Rock and roll would never be the same.