“You never really change like they say” Perry Farrell says on “End To The Lies” from Jane’s Addiction’s latest The Great Escape Artist, “You only become more like yourself” like some sage realist speaking from the years of toil his band has endured in the past two decades.
What he doesn’t tell you is how Jane’s Addiction hasn’t really toiled that much in the past twenty years.
In fact, let’s remind everyone that for 15 of the band’s 25 year-existence, Jane’s Addiction has been little more than a brand of their former life, a credible and-let’s be honest-critically important band in rock and roll’s underground.
What began as a stand-up gesture (breaking up) has now turned into a bunch of compilations and a few reunion gigs that sounded more like money grabs than a reprise of a creative rebirth.
Same goes for Strays, the first return that they tried to sell me as album number four.
However, The Great Escape Artist certainly doesn’t sound like they’re trying to “become more like yourself,” in fact, it kind of sounds like they’re trying to become Interpol. I’m sure a lot of this is from the band of Dave Sitek, on loan from TV On The Radio, who took over bass duties while shoving his nose into both the songwriting and recording process and certain points.
His entry came after the departure of Duff McKagan, the former GnR bassist who pulled out because he was worried about the amount of electronics the band was implementing for their new direction.
For me, this event signaled trouble-regardless of how regarded Sitek is, I was sure that Mc Kagan’s concerns were valid, because Jane’s Addiction was primarily a rock band underneath all that pretention and Jewish dreadlocks. To put ‘em all in front of electronic gadgets would surly cause a creative overdose.
Surprisingly, all Sitek has done is remind the band of their darker overtones, thanks to an armful of Joy Division records and a messenger bag full of studio gadgets that guitarist Dave Navarro and drummer Steven Perkins can build riffs upon. His role, it seems, is that of the band’s program director. And while original bassist Eric Avery is noticeably missing on the low-end duties, Sitek has done an admirable job of piecing together a collage of sounds that Jane’s Addiction would have aspired to without actually being able to with their original line-up.
“We’ve become big business…God is a merger” Farrell declares on “Irresistible Force,” speaking to our societal perceptions while sounding completely blind to the fact that it also speaks volumes about Jane’s Addiction.
And you know what? When you begin to look at it from that perspective-that the band is at least aware that they’ve become more of a brand image than a real threat, then The Great Escape Artist became surprisingly easier to listen to.
This is a record where it’s obvious that they’re not following the conventional wisdom of considering a direction that would be more favorable to their retirement package. Instead, it’s a record of trying to squeeze as much muse into the project as they can, even if that means letting an outsider pull it all together in a manner completely different to what they’re accustomed to.
It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for old fans, particularly the ones who enjoy Avery’s role as band unifier or Navarro’s shirtless power chord posturing. They’ll have to come to terms with the reality that Jane’s Addiction is ignoring to the very tools that made them successful in those early days of the “alternative” overthrow.
The Great Escape Artist makes the band seem like they’re making a sincere attempt at trying to add to their cannon and while it doesn’t reach the heights of their earlier work, at least it’s working to get there again.