written by Chris Familton
Jane’s Addiction cemented their place in music history with their seminal albums Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, both over 20 years ago. Since then they’ve made a few attempts to reignite the band and re-capture some of that magic with only limited success. 2003’s Strays had moments of brilliance but too often lost focus and cohesion. When they re-connected with original bassist Eric Avery for a run of shows there was renewed hope that they would make it to the studio and harness that live power into new recordings. They did of course return to the studio but it was without Avery who departed abruptly at the end of their Australian tour, leaving Jane’s Addiction to again figure out their next move. Initially they brought Guns n Roses/Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan into the fold with some success before he too moved on. The final solution came in the form of TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek who played bass, keys, guitar and assisted in production.
The end result is a mixed one with a discernible difference between the Sitek and McKagan co-writes. The latter’s contributions comprise three tracks toward the back end of The Great Escape Artist and they are a real step up from at least four of the seven songs that precede them. The album kicks off with the call to arms cyber riffing of Underground that sounds like prime JA with the power of Stephen Perkins’ drumming nailing the music to the floor while Dave Navarro hits the stratosphere with his ever-inventive guitar playing. Perry Farrell sings about hustlers and re-connecting with the underground in his inimitable soaring wail that could really be no-one else. It sets the bar high (too high) for the rest of the album yet it is comforting to know the band can still nail widescreen rock as well as they used to. End to the Lies continues the sonic swirl and churning prog metal guitar chug with Farrell laying down some particular vitriolic lyrics that may or may not be directed at Eric Avery.
It is the middle of the record where things start going astray. Irresistable Force (Met the Immovable Object) feels like JA working to a template with no spark or rush of energy coming from the song. The chorus sounds limp and a hollow grasp at getting some pop grandeur into the track. JA are at their best where they are channeling darker elements or some sense of danger (real or imagined) and here it is noticeably absent. When Navarro’s solo enters the fray it sounds cliched and dialed in rather than lifting the song to another level like his guitars normally do. From there Hit You Back hits like a soft high five from U2, everything sounding too synthetic, clean and tidy. Twisted Tales doesn’t fare a bit better by paring back the exuberance and getting moodier but it still feels like second rate effort, stripped of any blood and spit by the digital recording process.
McKagan enters the frame with Ultimate Reason and immediately the song feels less cluttered by technology, the bass is more defined and Farrell’s vocals are more intimate and less histrionic. Perkins too sounds liberated to be playing with a more primal bassist, his tumbling, intricate drum patterns really are a key part of JA’s signature sound and they are given few chances to really get going on this album. Broken People recalls Navarro’s chorused guitar sound of old and the song is a welcome relief from the bluster that characterises much of The Great Escape Artist. It feels like an oasis amid a sandstorm, an advertisement for simplicity over over-complication in music. That Broken People and the closing track Words Right Out of My Mouth are sequenced at the back end of the album is a crime. In this day and age many listeners may only get to the middle of the record before they lose interest and move on – yet they’ll be missing out on a couple of gems that go some way to redeeming an average album. Words Right out of My Mouth is JA finally sounding edgy, lean and incorporating those key parts of their sound – funk, metal, punk and goth to great effect. Perkins lets his hair down and there is a real sense of fun and energy in the music. It is a great way to go out but really it is too little too late to make this any more than a valiant yet flawed attempt to advance the legacy of Jane’s Addiction.
this review was first published on FasterLouder