Jane's Addiction - Strays
Nominally a member of Jane's Addiction, guitarist Dave Navarro is also a member of part-time rock band Camp Freddy, a band that can also include Billy Morrison, Gavin Rossdale, Kid Rock and Gina Gershon as well as three ex-members of Guns N' Roses - Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Slash. Never let it be said that rock associations are only ever a good thing as there is one moment during Everybody's Friend, the eighth track on this album, that is telling for showing how Navarro's evening job is playing havoc with the one that pays the bills.
Late in Everybody's Friend, after Perry Farrell has droned through such sixth-form poetry as, "Man of peace, Man of war/Tell me who knows more", Dave Navarro slopes in, leans back a little and plays as though he is soloing alongside his Camp Freddy bandmate Slash outside the white-painted church that featured in Guns N' Roses' November Rain. The piece that Navarro plays - and you can just imagine him making that face, you know the one - is so laughably bad that you'll be ejecting the CD to make sure you haven't actually put in a Chicago album.
Y'see, before the whole Seattle thing in the early-nineties, through which anyone with a fuzztone effects box conformed to grunge, bands like Sonic Youth, Throwing Muses, The Pixies, Ministry and Jane's Addiction were thrown into a broad genre as Alternative Rock. As great as each band was, Jane's Addiction felt like the one that had the greatest connection to rock's back pages, being a mix of crunching, psychedelic, almost progressive rock, funk that was snapped tight and sleazy, obscure lyrics, which were shown to best effect on their sprawling third album Ritual de lo Habitual, particularly on their best song, Three Days. After the release and subsequent success of that album, their own world tour and Farrell's creation of Lollapalooza, Jane's Addiction split up. Apart from a brief reunion that reunited all but bassist Eric Avery for 1997's odds-and-sods Kettle Whistle, Strays is the first album of wholly original material for the band since 1990's Ritual de lo Habitual. To say this album was anticipated would be stating the obvious somewhat.
Well, it would be with a heavy heart that one admits to it appearing as though something has gone horribly wrong in the intervening thirteen years between Ritual... and this album. Sure enough, Strays starts promisingly with True Nature, which comes up shining with twiddly solos between verses and a few bars of clean strumming, both of which recall Stop!, the opening track from Ritual... but as the title track opens with a bass thrum copped from the first minute of Up The Beach, the first track on Nothing's Shocking, one gets the unpleasant feeling that this is a band now giving their past an airing for a new audience rather than attempt something new.
As the album continues, one realises, however, that these two tracks are actually the best Jane's Addiction now have to offer. Whilst Just Because and Superhero are pop metal and The Riches and Suffer Some are both dull examples of crunching rock, Wrong Girl is simply awful, being the type of lazy rock that minor-league metal bands would dismiss as cliched. Then again, both Price I Pay and To Match the Sun do start well but so did Summertime Rolls, the beginning of which both songs fleece shamelessly. Neither, however, have the convictions of this latter song as both tracks go back to the same dull riffing from Navarro that litters this album.
Whilst this reviewer believes that no one would actually request that Jane's Addiction write any more tracks like the ponderous Ted, Just Admit It, one struggles to see any of their fans desperate for songs that sound like Nothing's Shocking-era B-sides. Strays feels as though Jane's Addiction are clinging to their own back catalogue to remind themselves of what it is they once did. Their problem is that they haven't listened to the good stuff - too much of the music here is influenced by tracks like Pigs In Zen and Idiots Rule rather than the glorious and expansive sounds of the songs placed between Been Caught Stealing and Classic Girl on Ritual... Despite one's excitement at hearing Jane's Addiction had reformed, you can't help but wish Navarro had stuck with Camp Freddy and that this band had remained apart. There's little that is more disappointing than seeing those who should know better foolishly believe they are still contenders.