As the all-powerful Jewish guy in Barton Fink says, “Let’s put a stop to those rumours – right now.” Strays has gotten a clutch of great reviews from some rather surprising sources (5/5 from The Guardian!? Oh dear) but many journalists expressed their dismay at a once-shocking (musically and visually) band now playing it safe. Let’s put a stop to those rumours – right now.
Okay, it’s true that Strays isn’t perfect. You can assume that much. There are quite a few straightforward funky rock workouts that are just too subdued to make a lasting impression. It’s also true that whereas Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual sounded like rock music beamed down from another planet, a vomiting-up of goth, punk and unholy, decadent 70s rock, Strays sounds more conventionally ‘rock’. It’s got verses, choruses, and a ‘classic’ production style for the most part – so for example, the acoustic number has cheesy violins on it instead of steel drums, the solos appear when you expect them to, and everything’s been reined in to the radio rock time format. But what appears to be a huge flaw the size of a submarine somehow manages to be a positive step forward.
You see, Jane’s Addiction make for a fantastic straightahead rock band. Whereas before they needed their flights of fancy into prog and bass-heavy doom to stand out, and to forge an identity, their 2003 incarnation doesn’t. They’re confident, they’re bold, and they’re proud to herald the Guitar as King. Navarro shines like a fucking lighthouse on this baby, giving us molten Hendrix riffs, gigantic slabs of Killing Joke, and absolutely awe-inspiring psychedelic lines of fluid grace. Nothing’s Shocking had a healthy dose of goth basslines to temper the Zeppelin, but here it’s all Page. And whereas Ritual de lo Habitual seemed to pride itself on its incongruousness (Side One = light, breezy punk-funk, Side Two = Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane taking acid together), this album is all about solid consistency. Everything in its right place, as the bug-eyed one sang.
So that’s the ethos here – avoid contrivances, go for the gut. And songs such as “True Nature”, “Riches” and “Hypersonic” do just that. On top of that, the single, “Just Because” is brilliant. It doesn’t sound like a fluke hit (as “Been Caught Stealing” did), it sounds like a wonderfully crafted, exciting rock song. “To Match The Sun”, also, is a slow-burning epic, all plucked violin strings and fat, woozy riffs.
The downside? Well, simply that a few of the songs that make up the second half aren’t very interesting. “Wrong Girl” is enjoyable enough, but “Suffer Some”, “Superhero” and “Everybody’s Friend” are all rather mediocre and ploddy. With a bit more work and time, the record might have been 100% watertight. But the beauties on this record (and there are beauties) are the ones that stand out, and the biggest blessing on the album is its centrepiece, “Price I Pay”. It’s spine-tingling, huge, and heart-stopping. It manages to achieve in four minutes what Tool and Muse could never achieve in ten – that is, to make arty hard rock sound spontaneous and organic, as opposed to laboured and meticulous. Perry’s banshee howl propels you along until the overblown, Zeppelin finale, with its revving licks and exploding drums. It’s exhilarating, and shows that, as a band, Jane’s Addiction are far from running out of ideas. If their next album manages to develop their new sound further, this ‘comeback’ might just make us forget they’d ever left.
Lionel Laurent is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.