Jane’s Addiction – [Boxed Set]

Thursday, 11 June 2009

As good as so much of the music that came out of the Nineties might have been, trying to trace the lines of influence that any band from that period had on current taste is no easy feat. Of course, people continue to toast Nirvana as having had a modicum of historical validity and there's no doubt that Alice In Chains proved to leave a spectacular and lasting impression that remains felt on pop radio (Godsmack, Theory Of A Deadman, Saving Abel, Queens Of The Stone Age and all of that band's associated projects, as well as Crooked X all owe a debt of development to AIC), as have Tori Amos and Sarah McLaughlin but, for as much promise as the Nineties had, remarkably little proved to be as important as so many fans back then had hoped. The one band that proved to be worth the excitement it generated was Jane's Addiction. Were it not for Jane's, while those bands listed above may have existed there's no chance they would have gotten the same amount of attention. Combining equal amounts of LA romance, art affinities (both visual and musical), raw heart, a unique look and aesthetic, decadence, innocence, punk, funk, metal and an unparalleled live show, Jane's Addiction singlehandedly broke ground, paved the way and beautified the path for virtually everything that would follow and fall under the headings of 'alternative rock,' 'indie rock' 'hard rock' and 'art rock.' That influence endures to this day; the shadows of Jane's Addiction and the cultural/musical festival/happening it pioneered, Lollapalooza, still color the backgrounds of bands as far flung as Radiohead, Rob Zombie, Apostle Of Hustle, Cage The Elephant and hordes more.

Not bad for a band that, while still performing, has only released three studio albums in twenty-two years.

Such a modest output implies that, like the Sex Pistols, a lot of the force behind Jane's involved a tremendous exertion from the record industry machine but A Cabinet Of Curiosities reveals that nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, during its initial run (1985 – 1991), Jane's Addiction was surprisingly productive; focusing only on the glory years of the band's initial run,  A Cabinet Of Curiosities collects forty-three rare tracks – demo and live cuts mostly, but a few oddities and fan favorites that never got a decent shake too – that won't necessarily come as a series of wonderments to rabid, long-time fans, but still fit the dictionary definition of rare and the polished presentation of the content will give even those raving lunatic fans that collected everything they could find something to get excited about.

So how does something come as less than shocking in spite of being a rarity? Jane's Addiction captured the imagination of what would later become known as the Alternative Nation and, like a most potent and irresistible drug, the public became gluttonous for them. Tape traders and bootleg labels (something of an anachronism now, but this was before file sharing forced the bottom out of the market for rarities of any quality) were swamped with Jane's Addiction paraphernalia and, after the internet did build a presence, bootlegs flowed even more freely. Because of that, older fans will recognize  and place much of the live material collected here (“unreleased” or not) but will still be interested in this set for the live content. Why? One word: quality. Speaking as one of those rabid, long-time, bootleg-collecting fans, while there are only a few live cuts on A Cabinet Of Curiosities that I didn't recognize, the grainy, rather wretched quality of my bootlegs pales pitifully in comparison to the pristine production that this set flaunts. The tracks function as proof positive why JA made their name as a live as over relying on only-just-average album sales: the rush of Navarro's guitar turns unhinged  when freed from studio confines and crests on the oceanic tides of Perkins' drums while Avery's bass bellows like the thunder of a fierce storm that's punctuated by Farrell's piercing vocal lightning. The elemental crash of songs like “Up The Beach,” “No One's Leaving,” “Ain't No Right” and “Ocean Size” (all on Disc 3 here, all taken from one show recorded in 1990) as well as “L.A. Medley” and a live, early incarnation of “Kettle Whistle” (both on Disc 2) all expose the wild thematic urgency of Jane's Addiction in a live context and the refurbished production makes each positively sparkle. The set also collects oddities and one-offs from this period, including the Jane's/Ice-T duet on “Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey” which is particularly funny because fans will be able to mark it as having been lifted straight off of the end credits of the Jane's Addiction feature film The Gift. If you don't think it's true, I can tell you that the scream you hear at the end of the song accompanies the image of Marty MeFirst being spun on an iron cross in the movie. Is that a problem? No, because most fans have been waiting for that audio to be readily available for years.

Fans will be equally charged about the studio demo tracks included with the set. Stripped of the enormous production that Dave Jerden (who produced Nothing's Shocking) tacked onto the songs, tracks including “Jane Says,” “Idiots Rule,” “Summertime Rolls” and (finally!) a polished version of “Suffer Some” all explode with a raw splendor that, really, more closely resemble show the songs are performed live than their glossy, studio counterparts. In addition, gems like the still-regularly-played-but-never-widely-released twelve-inch remix of “Been Caught Stealing” (which did appear on the now-out-of-print Live And Rare album), a scaled back (compared to the version on Kettle Whistle) demo of “Maceo” and “Ripple” (a Grateful Dead cover which appeared on a Perry Farrell solo comp) are all decidedly 'not new' tracks, but are welcome additions here for the obvious lack of previous availability and will warm the hearts of even the most hardened cynic.

The only point at which A Cabinet Of Curiosities falters is in its DVD segment. With the wide unavailability of The Gift (a film directed by Perry Farrell and then-girlfriend Casey Nicoli) – which has yet to see a reissue on DVD – one would think it would be the obvious choie for inclusion in this set, but instead viewers are handed the comparatively inferior Soul Kiss 'fan video' which is only as good as one might expect. While the performance footage (as well as that of the six music videos included here) is great and definitely worth a look, Soul Kiss still feels like a bootleg and doesn't offer anything to strengthen this already sprawling set. Happily, it doesn't weaken it much either.

As with so many of the Jane's Addiction comps released over the last fifteen years, A Cabinet Of Curiosities does continue to repackage some of the same material long-time fans know and love, but the set is still very valuable. This time, it gives even those fans that might already have the content a nudge because, with the remastering job done, the three CDs included actually sound like a proper release instead of a cash-grab. All of those tracks and moments that have achieved cult status and wonder over the years are finally offered to fans to finally let them hear what they read about and hoped for back when. That effort is very gratifying and that aforementioned quality will warm the hearts of those fans that have held out hope for so long that this material might become available.


Jane's Addiction online

Jane's Addiction myspace


A Cabinet Of Curiosities
is out now and available here on Amazon

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