Jane's Addiction - Strays

By james

You could be forgiven for forgetting what a huge deal Jane's Addiction was the first time around, especially if you weren't there. They certainly haven't done anything since their 1991 demise to help keep our memories fresh [especially the atrocity that was "Kettle Whistle"] - though the first Porno for Pyros album does come close. Unfortunately, new album "Strays" does little to amend that. However, it's a vast improvement over, say, "Songs Yet To Be Sung" or the god-awful "Rexall".

Those comparisons aren't exactly fair, of course. Part of what Jane's Addiction work so well was the synergy between the four members. Though it's hard to argue that Perry Farrell was more often than not the center of attention, all four men brought something to the table to create the magic. None of the aforementioned albums benefited from that, so to hold them up next to the mighty "Ritual de lo Habitual" or "Nothing's Shocking" is incredibly unfair to the point of being pointless. Not that "Strays" features input from all four original members either [Eric Avery has - perhaps wisely - chosen to sit the "relapse" out from the beginning], but it seems that working under the banner of Jane's Addiction seems to have some sort of effect on the other three.

If you're going to call something a Jane's Addiction album, though, you're asking for the comparisons. And how does it do? Outside of a few moments, it's pretty hard to fault musically. Chris Chaney does a commendable job filling in for Eric Avery to the point where you can hardly tell the difference most of the time. There's no denying this is a Jane's Addiction record in sound, and Perry is in fine form lyrically. The mostly fantastic 'The Riches' would fit perfectly in the opening half of "Ritual de lo Habitual", though the record as a whole is closer kin to the self-titled album.

It's in the concept where the album completely falls apart. Part of what made Jane's so special was they were artists, not just musicians. They had something to say, and they didn't give a fuck, they were going to say it. The records were the complete package - from the music to the liners to Perry's brilliant art on the front.

"Strays" is the sound of Jane's Addiction playing it safe. While there's no arguing the boys have aged well and are still very easy on the eyes, it seems wrong to have them on the cover. Even worse, the lyric book has all the naughty words starred out. Musically, they're playing it safe too. Yes, I realize I said earlier it was hard to fault on musical merits. And it is, it simply doesn't take any chances. Most of the songs fall into the 4-minute rock song structure - there's no sense of adventure like there was before. "Ritual de lo Habitual" followed up the opening 5 as-straightforward-as-Jane's-Addiction-was-going-to- get-at-the-time tracks with not 1, not 2, but 3 seven- plus minute art-rock epics - including career highlight 'Three Days' - and it worked fantastically. "Nothing's Shocking" had the sprawling 'Ted, Just Admit It' [which is just below 'Three Days' as their second finest moment] and 'Summertime Rolls' contrasted with mood pieces 'Up the Beach' and 'Thank You Boys'. Here, it's four-minutes of rock followed by four-minutes of rock, with the requisite acoustic number somewhere in the middle. Not that there's really anything wrong with that, as they do it better than most. It's just hard not to want more from a Jane's Addiction record.

What it boils down to is a solid - and, more importantly, listenable - American big rock record, though not one that does their legacy justice. Which is a shame, because we could really use another go-round of Jane's Addiction right now to shake things up. I guess we'll have to settle for the watered down version.