Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell is as much archetype as human being. We've all known a Farrell--the freaky outcast with big ideas and a seductive swagger, who flouts stares and pointed fingers as he defies social convention.
A shamanistic presence, Farrell draws you into his underground carnival like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, recalling Jim Morrison is his ability to conjure a dark, trippy environment where Id and Ego run free.
"I just can't stand commerciality. Can't stand sell-outs. I can't stand these bright and shiny Proactiv half-hos. I don't care if you've got a pimple. Jimi Hendrix had them. Keith Richards had them. You know what I mean? So maybe these people have driven me underground," Farrell said with casual self-assurance. "Embrace the darkness, my friend."
And that's something Jane's Addiction has done since its start in the mid '80s. The band was a redheaded stepchild in a scene dominated by hair metal. It arrived late for punk's high-water mark in Los Angeles--it had already migrated north to the lower-middle-class suburban neighborhoods of Orange County. Instead, the band started by playing in a parking lot with a hot dog stand.
There's something undeniably unique in Jane's Addiction's sound that allowed it to crest quickly. Perhaps it's Stephen Perkins' thumping, tribal drums, or guitarist Dave Navarro's warm mix of atmospheric tones and slashing leads that suggest a grimier, heavily tattooed answer to The Edge. Not to mention Farrell's haunting, spiritually tinged visions, which are certainly a big element of the band's success, whether he's longing to mirror the deep peace of the Pacific, sketching strung-out ne'er-do-wells or contemplating the congress of the immovable object on "Irresistible Force" from last year's return to form, The Great Escape Artist.
With a few more years under its belt since the band's 2001 reunion, and the introduction of TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek as the band's studio bassist, the music and songwriting on The Great Escape Artist is far superior to 2003's uneven Strays. The album trails only the band's breakout second album, 1988's Nothing's Shocking.
"We went into SIR Studios [in Los Angeles] and just started to jam and jam and jam, recording the jams. [We] sat down--as hard as it was--and listened to every minute of those jams and pulled out gems from the jam. And we started to work from that," Farrell said. "In some cases, there were different parts from different songs, and we would start to stitch it together like a beautiful monster."
Other than the absolutely infectious "Curiosity Kills," which recalls the undulating gait of "Mountain Song," the album lacks knock-em-dead tracks like "Idiots Rule," "Ocean Size" or "Jane Says." Nonetheless, the album is strong start to finish, with a far moodier approach than the 20-something blowout Nothing's Shocking.[ Video is no longer available. ]
Now that the band is a little older, it makes sense that members are suddenly worried "about the roaring sea below," on the track "Ultimate Reason," or offering life-summation choruses like, "You never really change like they say / Oh, you'll only become more like yourself" on "End to the Lies."
Time appears to have healed the dysfunctions that broke up the band 21 years ago.
"We've been getting along great since we got back together, since we started writing and acting like brothers," Farrell said, alluding to the band's decade-long hiatus (other than a brief 1997 reunion). "I feel really fortunate that I work with [Stephen Perkins]. I'm very fortunate to work with Dave Navarro. How did it happen that I ended up working with such incredibly talented people? I don't know. But I acknowledge and I will not soon run away from my position in life. I won't be doing that again."
Though Farrell has contemplated leaving performing behind, he never intends to give up music. He loves putting on the music festival Lollapalooza and said it puts him in touch with the kids; it keeps him connected. He sees a lot of parallels between the underground now and how it was when he was coming up.
"It's taken a while but the Internet--I know people say it destroyed music, but what it did was bring on a different scene," he said. "It's like a virtual scene on the Internet. You go to Pandora and type in a group that you like, find out more. You want to hear great music--you have to dig a little deeper like you used to. You have to ask your big brother, you got to ask the guy who is well informed, you have to go out to the scene and see what they're looking like and what they're listening to. It's kind of exciting."
Besides, to Farrell making music wasn't about record sales--not that he didn't enjoy the money and attention--but it was about something deeper. So he has never worried much about downloading.
"Sure I made great records--in my mind anyway--I did my best to make great records and ones that leave behind a song long after I'm gone that people can just go, 'Wow.' But I never rested on that, because I knew that really, if you came and saw us, that is one night that you'll never forget," Farrell said. "[That's] what live music is supposed to be about. Live music, when you get together, it's a celebration. A ceremony. Spiritual. All these things. I put my faith in live music and my life into live music."
Meanwhile, Farrell remains steadfastly behind the rock and dismissive of almost everything he hears on the radio, which he considers lifeless pop. He knows there are kids out there hungry for something more.
"We don't book pop [at Lollapalooza]. We're booking the real deal, real musicians--and guess what? Hundreds of thousands of people are coming out to see that. They're still the coolest. They're still the ones you want to get behind and say, 'They're representing me. These commercial crappy contest winners, they don't represent me. They have nothing to do with my life,'" he said. "If I say I'm hungry, I need something--you don't go for a box of Pringles. You want some steak."
And for Jane's Addiction, that continues to be the meat of the matter.