Jane's Addiction - The Great Escape
It's a personal truth and we all have our own: the greatest gig I ever saw was Jane's Addiction. Time nibbles away at the memory of course; it's almost 21 years to the day since that show - longer than I'd been alive at the time, but that remains the marker against which everything else has been judged. The sense of anticipation, the air of danger, the full-on rock rollercoaster, the moments of utter beauty and release. Other bands might bring one or two of those aspects, but I'd never seen anything before - or subsequently - that had them all in the way that Jane's Addiction did that night.
It was as much about potential and promise as anything else. We were on the cusp of grunge, in fact the first few volleys had already echoed around the student unions, but Jane's threw down a gauntlet, the label of which read 'We rock - differently.' Jane's World was one where the freaks, faggots, whores and junkies ruled. Sure, no-one would pay the bills or fill in the potholes (except for the one when the stash ran out) but it seemed desirably exotic, especially when so many of the other sonic adventurers around at the time were as dull as dishwater when away from their guitars. The band themselves were the perfect blend of the studiously cool and the eccentric, with frontman Perry Farrell especially one of the oddest men to ever pull on a pair of leather pants in the name of the rock 'n' roll. (There was, famously, an issue of Melody Maker, the cover of which caused children to cry and elderly ladies to get the vapours, so strange his visage.) But together, JA were synergy writ large, each member bringing their own influences (George Clinton, Joy Division, Cocteau Twins) with a promise to take rock and metal down strange and mysterious new avenues. But they burned too brightly, and just for a short time, so we got torn jeans, flannel shirts and Chris Cornell instead.
Everything they've done since their first proper split in 1991 I've studiously ignored, determined not to spoil the perfection of those few perfect years. Bassist Eric Avery is out of the band again, with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek stepping in for the recording of this album after Duff McKagan's brief stint holding down the role. Sitek has been credited with bringing a little stability and focus to the notoriously volatile relationship between Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro and The Great Escape certainly suggests a band determined to put out a record worthy of their legacy. They'll obviously never hit the peaks of Nothing's Shocking or Ritual de lo Habitual again, but this is no embarrassment at all.
Farrell is in his 50s now. He was a cocky fucker back in the day - and rightly so - but this is a (slightly) quieter, more dignified affair than previous, despite the one-two punch of the opening tracks. 'Underground' persists with Farrell's sympathy for the underdog ("We're all hustlers!"); 'End To The Lies' a battling riposte to all the fakers and phonies encountered in everyday life or who lobby for our votes come election time, Navarro pulling out his trademark riffage, coming close to recalling old glories. Elsewhere, Sitek lays his stamp on 'Curiosity Kills' with a sinister, prowling bassline but the track blossoms into something more upbeat and U2-like. Indeed, the influence of Bono and The Edge hang heavy: 'Twisted Tales' has an air of 'Lemon' and proves to be one of the sweetest things to ever grace a Jane's Addiction album ("Sometimes I got lucky ... She was way over my head."). This is a sensibility that's always been central to Farrell's world, that we may be freaks and misfits but we're just as good as everyone else; our love, our hopes and dreams are just as valid. As such, he's from a tradition of great musical dreamers and optimists but it gives Jane's Addiction a romantic side that remains disappointingly absent across the wider rock spectrum.
The Great Escape is like meeting someone you've not seen for 20 years and not quite remembering why you ever lost touch in the first place. If you ever liked Jane's Addiction, there's enough here to remind you just why you did - and also enough to suggest you should consider exchanging numbers: this is one friendship worth re-kindling. Idiot's still rule - might as well keep fucking and fighting while they do their best to take us down; Jane's Addiction can still be the soundtrack to it all.