Perry Ferrell is a strange man. He disbanded Jane’s Addiction in the early ’90s after their enormously successful Ritual de lo Habitual, only to form the much weaker (though better named) Porno for Pyros. After a couple of mediocre albums, Porno went the way of Ferrell’s first band. Ferrell faded into obscurity; he rediscovered Judaism and moved to Israel, or something like that. And now, he’s back! And so is the oft-shirtless Dave Navarro, who hasn’t been doing much lately since taking over guitar duties from the heroin-addled John Frusciante for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1995 One Hot Minute (which incidentally didn’t sell too well). The competent Stephen Perkins is back on drums, and Eric Avery has been replaced by Chris Chaney on the bass.
Sadly, however, Jane’s Addiction’s first studio album in 13 years, “Strays,” is nothing new. Perry Ferrell’s screechy vocals are still as annoying as they are engaging; Dave Navarro is still playing Guitar God, unleashing repetitive but nonetheless impressive solos. That’s not to say that the effects of the past decade aren’t unnoticeable: the psychedelic heavy metal which made Ritual such a masterpiece has been traded in for radio-friendly, run-of-the-mill rock and roll. As a result, the album doesn’t hold together very well, even though a handful of tunes rock remarkably hard.
“Just Because,” the album’s first single, is already a hit, and it’s not hard to hear why. Navarro’s guitar riff is repetitive and predictable, but nonetheless I caught myself singing it in the shower. Ferrell’s lyrics neither rhyme nor tell a story, yet they reflect his seemingly new-found wisdom and perspective on the world. Most importantly, he sings the lyrics so passionately that it doesn’t particularly matter that they don’t make much sense. It’s that enthusiasm, which was so important to the band’s great sound back in the ’80s, that makes “True Nature” and “Hypersonic” such tight rock songs. The best tune on the record, though, is devoid of fast drumming and even loud guitars. “Everybody’s Friend” has to be the best power-ballad in over 15 years, even if the phrase “hey man” is repeated seven times.
My guess is that this record will appeal mostly to kids who get their fix of rock and roll on the radio, which is slowly being taken over by the ultra-evil Clear Channel Communications. Jane’s Addiction’s trademark intensity and quirkiness will undoubtedly sound refreshing to a generation of teens raised on Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. For fans of the band’s earlier stuff, however, Strays will sound anything but fresh.