Album review: Jane’s Addiction's 'The Great Escape Artist'
This post has been updated. See below for details.
“You know, we’ve become a big business,” Perry Farrell notes in his distinctive caterwaul on “Irresistible Force (Met the Immovable Object),” a song on the fourth full-length release from Jane’s Addiction. It’s a remarkable moment of candor: Jane’s Addiction commenced in the late ’80s as one of alternative rock’s most maverick progenitors, fomenting the American festival movement in founding Lollapalooza and inspiring legions with heavy yet genre-confounding grooves. However, as Jane’s coalesced into a mainstream headliner, the band’s recorded legacy grew so spotty and sporadic it made R.E.M.’s seem like a model of consistency by comparison.
“The Great Escape Artist,” however, represents both a return to form and an unsullied beginning. Epic opener “Underground” sets the tone, recasting the expanse of “Mountain Song” on Jane’s classic 1988 debut, “Nothing’s Shocking,” with new angularity: imagine the term “Zeppelinesque” given a Gang of Four makeover. Stephen Perkins' drums prove as tribal as ever, and guitarist Dave Navarro alternates guiltily pleasurable histrionic soloing with slashing minimalism; Farrell’s howl remains recognizable as well — if transformed somewhat from its feral origins into a more knowing, dissolute croon.
Producers Rich Costey (Interpol, Muse) and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek (who also contributes bass) emphasize Jane’s post-punk dimension, evoking Public Image Ltd., Killing Joke, Theatre of Hate and early Cult in the album’s echoey, dub-wise mix. Bands like that actually provided the sonic crucible that spawned the original Jane’s; those influences feel utterly contemporary here, adding nervous, dynamic tension to Jane’s trademark sound. Alas, while the interplay remains incendiary, the textures freshly incandescent, there isn’t much in the way of memorable choruses or hooks. Still, for a group to sound this vital after a two-decade-plus run — well, that is shocking.
“The Great Escape Artist” (Capitol)
Two and a half stars (out of four)
— Matt Diehl
Updated, Tuesday, Oct. 18: The original version of this post misidentified the drummer of Jane's Addiction. His name is Stephen Perkins, not Stephen Hopkins.