“You never really change like they say / Oh you only become more like yourself” Perry Ferrell sings in “End to the Lies,” and he couldn’t be more right. Twenty-four years have passed since Nothing’s Shocking blurred the lines separating art rock, heavy metal, and new wave. Back then Jane’s and Guns N’ Roses battled for the heart of Los Angeles. So who won? The Gunners made one of the biggest albums of all time and Jane’s laid the groundwork for the alternative nation and singlehandedly revived the concert festival. But in the end who cares — a quarter century has passed, both bands are legend, and Duff McKagan shares writing credits on several of The Great Escape Artist songs.
Duff’s presence, along with bassist David Andrew Sitek from TV on the Radio, means of course that original bassist Eric Avery sat it out again this time around, just as he did for 2003’s Strays. Eric A’s bass riffs rooted Jane’s classics like “Mountain Song,” “Ocean Size,” and “Three Days.” Right now I’m listening to the super deep nugget “I Would For You,” and it’s essentially a bass figure and Perry’s vocals. Avery was that critical to the original Jane’s sound.
But his absence isn’t as troubling as one might expect. Sitek does a great job holding down the bottom end, and “great job” is the only way to describe the album’s rhythm section. Stephen Perkins is a brilliant drummer, and his choices here are understated and tasteful. If you are looking for flash you’re going to need to pull out your Rush albums, but it if you want a clinic on sitting back in the groove and propelling a song forward Perkins is your man. Crank “Irresistable Force” and you’ll hear what I mean.
Dave Navarro gets his licks, too. One of the criticisms of Escape Artist is that the former child prodigy doesn’t get to swing his dick. Just not true. Album openers “Underground” and “End to the Lies” heavily feature the guitarist’s virtuosity, as do the rest of the songs on the album.
The “problem” is that much like Perkins’ drums Navarro’s guitar wizardry is so seamlessly woven into the fabric of the songs that it rarely finds its way to the foreground.
Jane’s Addiction’s songs have alway been exercises in mood and aural texture. The mixing desk and effects boxes are every bit as meaningful to the whole, whether something as straightforward as Navarro’s reverb or the many effects on Perry’s vocals. And speaking of Perry Ferrell, he sounds fantastic on this album. On the 2009 tour he wasn’t in fighting form, sometimes speaking the lyrics rather than singing. But on Escape Artist he’s the Perry of old, if perhaps even more like himself.
His concerns have remained consistent over the years, too. He seems to still be struggling with God (“Underground”), outsiders (“Broken People”) and his own batshit craziness (“Words Right Out of My Mouth” and the Big Bang-as-cosmic-fuck “Irresistable Force”).
My only quibble with the album is the sequencing. “Broken People” is such a perfect denouement that I’m unsettled when “Words Right out of My Mouth” cranks up. Maybe this is irrelevant nowadays when people cherry pick rather than play an album straight through.
The Great Escape Artist is a welcome return for Jane’s Addiction. No, it isn’t Nothing’s Shocking or Ritual de lo Habitual, but why should it be? If you want to listen to “Stop” or “Jane Says” you know where to find them. Escape Artist sounds exactly like what Jane’s should sound like in 2011. Maybe the trap that these artists have escaped is making the same album for thirty years. That works for some bands — AC/DC for example — but these guys have never seemed content to keep riding the same wave.
One last note: Spring for the Best Buy deluxe version, which includes a bonus live disc. It’s always fun to listen to Perry work a crowd, not to mention the killer versions of Jane’s classics.