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Jane's Addiction - 'The Great Escape Artist' Review

Veteran Los Angeles Alt-Rock Band Spruce Up Their Sound on Comeback Album

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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janes addiction great escape artist review

Jane's Addiction - 'The Great Escape Artist'

Photo courtesy Total Assault.
Jane’s Addiction’s first album in eight years may throw off old fans who want the band to stay true to their late-'80s sound, but The Great Escape Artist is bracingly adventurous in a way that a lot of reunion albums aren’t. Teaming up with TV on the Radio member Dave Sitek, the veteran alt-rock group explore electronic textures while retaining the arena-rock aesthetic of their heyday. Though lacking the sort of indelible instant classics that marked Ritual de lo Habitual and Nothing’s Shocking, this moodier record rewards patient listeners with a collection of songs that suggests how this L.A. band could forge a new direction for the future.

Back From the Dead

When Jane’s Addiction burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, they (like fellow L.A. groups Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses) personified Southern California’s danger and hedonism, albeit with a healthy dose of hippie philosophizing courtesy of frontman Perry Farrell. Anchored by Dave Navarro’s hard rock guitar prowess, Jane’s seemed like a bridge between Led Zeppelin and the forthcoming alt-rock wave led by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But since 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual, the band members have mostly been busy doing other things -- Farrell, for one, helped launch Lollapalooza -- with only the meekly received Strays (from 2003) since. Longtime bassist Eric Avery remains out of the picture, but the other three members (including drummer Stephen Perkins) seem determined not to repeat the past with The Great Escape Artist. That doesn’t always work, but their updated sound sure seems to have refreshed the guys.

Marrying the Old to the New

Because of Sitek’s association with TV on the Radio, one of the most challenging and exciting bands in modern rock, there was curiosity about how Jane’s Addiction’s sound would work with his. The simple answer is that The Great Escape Artist kicks the band into the 21st century, filling the songs with sound effects and layers of keyboard that wouldn’t seem out of a place on a Radiohead disc. But to the band’s credit, the album’s strongest moments find ways to translate the Jane’s blueprint to a new age. If “Jane Says” was definitive alt-rock for one era, then a ballad like “Broken People” features Farrell singing on top of spruced-up guitars and sleek keyboards in a similar way. The surface might be different, but the band’s DNA remains largely intact.

The Perry Farrell Show

As a frontman Farrell has always been a divisive figure. Though charismatic and blessed with a powerful voice, Farrell can also be wildly self-indulgent and far too proud of his pseudo-poetic pronouncements. (In this way, he seems to be the deserving successor to Jim Morrison; much like the Doors, Jane’s Addiction’s persona is deeply wedded to that of their singer.) On The Great Escape Artist, Farrell can overdo his serpentine delivery, but on tracks like “Curiosity Kills” and “I’ll Hit You Back” he’s a magnetic presence, even when his voice is hidden underneath filters. His lyrics may not be incredibly insightful -- on the lead single “End to the Lies,” he boringly goes after his critics -- but that doesn’t matter so much. The Great Escape Artist is more about an overall effect, and Farrell commands the spotlight without overshadowing his collaborators.

Welcome to Their Future

The Great Escape Artist nicely balances between moody mid-tempo numbers and harder-edged rock songs, and the worst you can say about the album’s weaker moments is that they’re aurally interesting without being all that compelling. Stillborn numbers like “Splash a Little Water on It” feel like excursions into modern rock that simply don’t suit Jane’s, but even then the new sonic trappings bristle with the sense of possibility. While their new album doesn’t completely disprove the notion that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, The Great Escape Artist does at least show that a commitment to pushing out of your comfort zone can yield dividends.

'The Great Escape Artist' - Best Tracks:

“Curiosity Kills” (Purchase/Download)
“Broken People” (Purchase/Download)
“I’ll Hit You Back” (Purchase/Download)
“Twisted Tales” (Purchase/Download)
“Underground” (Purchase/Download)

Release date – October 18, 2011
Capitol

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publicist. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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