Jane’s Addiction - Nothing’s Shocking Music Album Reviews

Jane’s Addiction - Nothing’s Shocking Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the Los Angeles band’s 1988 debut, which infused the nascent alt-rock movement with a surreal vision of Hollywood hedonism.

Anyone who’d ever put a microphone in front of Perry Farrell should’ve known that the oral history of Jane’s Addiction couldn’t possibly be contained by a print magazine. Still, Brendan Mullen got the green light to cover the band’s 2003 reunion for Spin and went 10,000 words over the original assignment. Within two years, it turned into a 300-page book. Throughout Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction, a large cast of disgruntled ex-bandmates and business partners credit the band’s 1988 debut Nothing’s Shocking as the first truly mainstream alternative rock album, though Farrell does acknowledge that he did not invent the concept. As the leader of pre-Jane’s goth outfit Psi Com and an ambassador of the mongrel Los Angeles post-punk scene that birthed Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he respected the ideological purity of America’s underground rock royalty. But none of them saw the big picture like Farrell, a product of New York privilege who reinvented himself as a motor-mouthed L.A. street hustler. Alternative rock was going to strange and exciting places with or without Jane’s Addiction, and Nothing’s Shocking made it go Hollywood.

Both prophetic and flying blind through the overlapping outgrowths of art-metal, proto-grunge and college rock that were formulating a legitimate alternative to MOR radio and MTV, Nothing’s Shocking is the sound of the ’90s arriving two years ahead of schedule. “Coming down the mountain/One of many children/Everybody has their own opinion,” Farrell yelped on “Mountain Song,” delivering alt-rock’s first mission statement like Moses on Mount Nebo, a vision of a promised land where the iconoclasts and idealists would reshape culture after years of toiling in obscurity. Note the message of the chorus: “Cash in now, honey.”

But in 1988, Nothing’s Shocking wasn’t intended as the constitution of Alternative Nation. Rather, it was a quintessential Los Angeles album. You know, L.A.—glitter and gutter, hippie hedonism fueled by heroin and Hollywood handshakes. The band’s origin myth is a history of grifts and sharp dealing: Jane’s Addiction boosted their local reputation by trashing and subsequently getting banned from influential venues, who would then make a pile of cash promoting the show where they were allowed back. Whores takes its name from an early song inspired by a sex worker named Bianca, who bankrolled those name-making gigs. Aside from bassist Eric Avery, her clientele mostly consisted of “toupeed Hollywood B-listers” and “wholesome married game show hosts,” according to Jane Bainter, the “first lady of the Wilton House,” an arts collective/crash pad started by Farrell. Its residents would often blame their escalating problems on her drug habit—“It’s all because of Jane’s addiction.” (This won over the proposed “Jane’s Heroin Experience” when it was time to pick a name.) During this period of early infamy, they ate expensive dinners with labels with whom they had no intention to sign and then ended up committing with Warner Bros.; Jane Addiction’s convinced their new label to allow a “fake indie release” of Jane’s Addiction on Triple X Records to maintain their street cred, a strategy they accused Guns N’ Roses, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden of copying afterwards. By 1991, the band topped Billboard’s Alternative Singles chart and won an MTV Video Music Award with a song that viewed shoplifting as a victimless crime.

They were hardly the only band of their time speaking to Los Angeles’ eternal dualities. Decades of hearing “Jane Says” sandwiched between “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Under the Bridge” has retconned Jane’s Addiction as an artsier variant of Sunset Strip sleazeball rock. But the truth of where they stood in 1988 lies somewhere between how they saw themselves and how they were perceived by the local press—as “the next big thing,” but also an uncertain commercial proposition against the likes of Warrant and Damn Yankees and Kingdom Come. As much socialites as musicians, Jane’s Addiction were at least adjacent to the debaucherous nightlife scene memorialized by bands like Guns N’ Roses, Faster Pussycat, and Mötley Crüe. But while those bands prowled notorious Hollywood rock’n’roll club the Cathouse, Jane’s were regulars at the influential goth- and industrial-leaning club Scream. “All the Cathouse guys looked like Bret Michaels from Poison and the chicks were slutty Tawny Kitaen types,” Scream founder Dayle Gloria explained. “At Scream, all the guys looked like Ian McCulloch and the girls were all Siouxsie clones.”

It’s unlikely that Farrell intended to merge these two worlds when he approached Avery about starting a new project. Avery appraised Psi Com thusly: “I think they blow.” Still, the two bonded over Joy Division, Flipper, and pasty British goths like Bauhaus, the Cult, and the Sisters of Mercy, who enjoyed a symbiotic fascination with tanned SoCal outcasts. The duo initially tried to fill Jane’s ranks with ringers from Farrell’s Psi Com days before Avery’s sister liaised a meeting with her recent prom date Stephen Perkins and his marching band pal, Navarro. Farrell and Avery were skeptical of the duo, seeing them as an embodiment of cornball Valley metal excess; Navarro’s previous band, Dizastre, drew crowds of several hundred at the Troubadour and sounded exactly like you’d expect. Farrell recalled Perkins showing up to his audition with “soft red boots and a bandana to hold his curls together…and an 18-piece drumkit.” But the things they had going for them were nearly impossible to find in Farrell’s extensive underground network: They were reliable, had mind-blowing chops, and no qualms whatsoever about being rock stars.

Peers and critics alike used some variation of “shamanistic” to describe Farrell as a frontman; a transfixing presence both snake and charmer, he’d first begun to develop his stage moves as a Mick Jagger and David Bowie impersonator. The term also speaks to Farrell’s navel-gazing spirituality. “I want to be as deep as the ocean,” he brays on “Ocean Size,” a “Misty Mountain Hop” transported to Point Dume. Minutes later, he pees on himself during “Standing in the Shower…Thinking” and opens a gateway to a higher power. On “Summertime Rolls,” shoelessness is next to godliness. Farrell’s garish personal appearance suggested both a perpetual quest for transcendence and a general lack of self-awareness: He wore green dreadlocks and eventually underwent an African scarification ritual, only to find out that the desired keloid effects are less pronounced on white skin.

Already a veteran of Hollywood’s art-punk trenches, Farrell was at least six years older than Perkins, Navarro, and Avery, a wildly creative and deeply troubled trio. Though everyone in Jane’s Addiction came from some measure of privilege, Perkins was the only one to escape catastrophic familial trauma and also the only member not to self-identify as a drug addict. Farrell’s mother died by suicide when he was 3; Navarro’s mother was murdered by an ex-boyfriend when he was 15; Avery discovered the identity of his biological father in high school and quickly spiraled towards his first stint in rehab. The group’s inner circle witnessed how Farrell’s magnetism worked on his bandmates. “He felt like he could mold them and they would forever do what he wanted,” according to Casey Niccoli, Farrell’s girlfriend, stylist, and creative partner throughout much of the band’s initial run. “Eventually, they’d grow up but by then, he’d have gotten what he needed out of them.” He also leveraged this imbalance into a garishly lopsided, take-it-or-leave-it publishing split that granted him 50 percent for the lyrics alone, with an extra 12 and half percent for his share of the music, despite being credited with only vocals and piano. More than their escalating drug use or codependent romantic relationships or constant fistfights, the publishing split ensured that Jane’s Addiction were operating on borrowed time.

Rejecting a list of proposed producers from Warner Bros.—including Mike Clink, fresh off his work with Jane’s “mortal enemies” on Appetite for Destruction—Farrell instead handpicked Dave Jerden, a perfect fit: His engineering credits with Talking Heads provided Farrell’s desired art-rock cred, but he had yet to be the lead producer on any album, let alone a major-label release. His trust in the band’s vision resulted in the dank, cavernous production that evoked both the sequined squalor of clubs like Scream and Power Tools and the 4AD and Factory albums played there. By the time the two parties reunited for 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, their collective palette had burst into wild color and Jerden would soon shepherd Alice in Chains and Anthrax out of metal into the greener pastures of alt-rock. Play the first two Jane’s Addiction albums back-to-back, and the ’80s become the ’90s.

Nothing’s Shocking was structured as the band conceived playing it live, which explains about five minutes of regal scene-chewing before the first true riff drops. By the time Jerden arrived to produce, the album was already a veritable Greatest Hits, bolstered by a batch of songs honed over three years of relentless local grind—tight enough for a recording window that might shut on any given day if someone got too high. “Pigs in Zen” was updated with a new, mid-song Farrell soliloquy, tamer than many to come (“I know about PAIN! I still wanna fuck!” he informed an Atlanta crowd in 1989). And though newly bolstered with unforgettable steel drum pings, “Jane Says” honors its roots as the product of endless acoustic jam sessions at the Wilton House: G and A chords played over and over again as Farrell draws lyrical inspiration from the ambient gossip. Everything that happens to Bainter and Sergio in “Jane Says” is completely true, which goes a ways towards explaining how it’s one of the most poignant and empathetic songs about drug addiction ever written; that it’s also a staple of every classic rock radio playlist in existence feels miraculous.

It was apparent that Jane’s Addiction had chemistry, though I suppose a meth lab does too. Nothing’s Shocking is shot through with a volatile combination of awe and fear, reverence and resentment, four exceedingly headstrong artists vying for the direction of a song, never knowing if they’d get the chance to do it again. Navarro drew the metalheads, having forged his craft putting fellow Guitar Center lurkers to shame with front-to-back recitals of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin albums. Yet when Jane’s earned comparisons to Zeppelin, it was largely due to the acoustic light and shade he brought to “Ocean Size” and “Jane Says.” A professed Deadhead, Navarro also understood the value of interplay; there’s a time for shredding, like when “Mountain Song” and “Had a Dad” require an emotional pitch out of Farrell’s range, and a time to hold back. The two chords in “Jane Says” can be replicated by anyone with a week of guitar lessons, while the brilliantly boneheaded riff on “Mountain Song” was preordained for Beavis and Butt-Head’s approval.

In a band that often veered towards excess, Avery’s contributions were masterstrokes of efficiency. Many of Jane’s most beloved songs began from the germ of an Avery bass riff, and the ones on “Mountain Song” and “Up the Beach” were both instantly recognizable and sturdy enough to be repeated for the next five minutes. The aerobic funk-punk of “Idiots Rule” drafts off the momentum created by the Chili Peppers and Fishbone, bands better known at the time for their (literally) balls-out live shows than tight songwriting; with Chris Dowd and Flea contributing to horns, Avery described the track as a Fishbone song from which Farrell had “trimmed away…the fat.” “Had a Dad” stemmed from Avery’s revelation about his father, an event that Farrell reimagined as a falling-out with God and introduced like a 12-bar blues:

I had a dad
Big and strong
I turned around
I found my daddy gone
He was the one
Made me what I am today
It’s up to me now
My daddy has gone away…
Let’s rock!

This unironic “let’s rock!” spoke to why Jane’s were more likely to be compared to Zeppelin and the Doors than peers like Sonic Youth and the Pixies, who drew wryer wisdom from similar folds of America’s underbelly. Banned from most mass-market retailers for its cover art, Nothing’s Shocking nonetheless found success on college rock radio. But Jane’s Addiction was by no means a college rock band: There were no forays into the musical avant-garde, nothing standing between an average kid in Iowa and the scum of St. Andrews Place, the open-air drug market namedropped in “Jane Says.” If you thought the songs about drugs were about God or the songs about girls were about drugs, you’d probably be right. For anyone who fantasized about California, about getting high and getting laid, about finding some relief from parental conflict, “Summertime Rolls” makes all of that feel entirely possible: six minutes that encompass the most smog-free day of July and also lose track of time completely.

Conversely, Farrell can occasionally sound like the exact thing he was when Jane’s Addiction began, a jaded twenty-something luring the local kids with tall tales of vice and depravity. “Show me everybody/Naked and disfigured/Nothing’s shocking,” he yowls on “Ted, Just Admit It…,” a song inspired by the first serial killer to double as a proto-reality television star. Not surprisingly, most critics took issue with Farrell yelping “Sex! Is! Violent!” ad nauseam, not because it exposed some kind of unspeakable truth, but because it sounded like something Jim Morrison would say; see also the spoken-word psychobabble section of “Pigs in Zen,” easily the album’s weakest song. Yet that line is ruthlessly designed to capture the mind of someone who’s probably only experienced sex and violence from their television, i.e., teenagers.

Nearly everyone in Whores speaks in hushed tones about Farrell’s childlike aura, a boundless curiosity that he explains as a kind of whimsical survival mechanism. “I’m constantly warding off boredom,” he told Melody Maker. “Boredom’s a disease.” But if you believe the theory that trauma and addiction keeps people stuck at the age when they first experienced it, there’s likely a darker force that brought Jane’s together before it blew them apart. Even if the members of Jane’s Addiction underwent tremendous mental, physical, and emotional suffering for their art, things likely would have turned out worse if they’d never met at all.

Jane’s Addiction didn’t stick around to lead the revolution they started. On September 24, 1991, Nirvana released Nevermind; two days later, the first incarnation of Jane’s Addiction met an end pulled directly from Farrell’s id. He played their final gig in Hawaii completely naked, then proceeded to spend an undisclosed number of days on the island with a “ravishing, young hottie showing up with a doctor’s bag and a wink in her eye.” From that point forward, Farrell would live out the peak of his influence as the co-creator and public face of Lollapalooza, the traveling festival that codified “alternative rock” for suburbs across the United States and served as proof of concept for offshoots like Lilith Fair, Smokin’ Grooves, H.O.R.D.E., and Ozzfest.

It didn’t take long for the message to change from “cash in” to “cash out.” These days, it’s admittedly difficult to consider the legacy of Jane’s Addiction outside of Farrell and Navarro’s relentless brand ambassadorship over the years, not to mention the use of 2003’s “Superhero” as the theme song for Entourage, a live-action rendering of Maxim wish-fulfillment that went against everything the band once claimed to stand for. But even in its creators’ absence, Nothing’s Shocking felt like a rebuke of what alt-rock would soon become: If Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Chris Cornell often shunned pleasure and adulation, rejecting their sanctification as brooding sex symbols, Jane’s Addiction were funky, funny, and unrepentantly carnal. Even with all the baggage of prophecy and influence, Nothing’s Shocking lives as a poignant, almost quixotic work of Hollywood imagination—not a documentary, but a beautifully doomed vision of a ’90s that could’ve been.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Jane’s Addiction - Nothing’s Shocking Music Album Reviews Jane’s Addiction - Nothing’s Shocking Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, September 18, 2022 Rating: 5

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