Sunday, September 25, 2016

1988 - Nothing's Shocking

Though they burned out faster than a boiled frog, Jane's Addiction's take on the underbelly of Tinseltown offered a fresh alternative to the dime-a-dozen, big-hair, party-til-you-puke rock 'n' roll acts active in L.A. at the time. This was a band embraced more by Tears for Fears fans than metalheads, while sparking a myriad of 90s grunge neo art rock, from Nirvana to Faith No More. Loud and brash but thoughtful as Zeppelin, Nothing's Shocking was the first true pillar of what would become alt. rock in the 1990s. Dave Navarro's guitars never sounded as loud and menacing as they did here, miles ahead of anything heard at the time. These riffs were big, mean, and angry; it's clear that the band was able to master the art of power over speed. Stephen Perkins' drumming was otherworldly, indeed Moony, providing layers of funky beats and pulse pounding time shifts. Eric Avery's bass was just as affecting, laying down lines that do more than add to the rhythm section; they created their own melodies. Topping it all off was vocalist Perry Farrell's high pitched stylized rants; his vocals abrasive, powerful, sexy, reflective, and full of punk energy. He sounded insanely confident, and for good reason; he had the pipes of Axel Rose filtered through a thousand cartons of cigarettes. 

Ultimately what makes or breaks 1988's Nothing's Shocking is Farrell's lyrics which range from short, thought provoking verses to lovely poetic nonsense. On "Had a Dad," his simple words speak for a generation of single parent, latch-key kids (hey, that's me!): "Had a dad/ Big and strong/ Turned around/ Found my daddy gone/ He was the one/ Made me what I am today/ It's up to me now/ My daddy has gone away."

"Ted, Just Admit It" is a controversial song about serial killer Ted Bundy. It is an ominous piece that opens with a brooding bass over which is spliced a few words from Bundy himself, denying any wrongdoing.  The album's title derives from this song as Farrell describes how graphic camera and television images desensitize us from an early age until we find nothing shocking.  "The news is just another show/ With sex and violence."  After the first verse, Navarro takes a solo and the music becomes more aggressive.  Farrell screams the words "sex is violent" over and over.  In interviews shortly before his execution, Bundy claimed that pornography warped his mind and left him with a perverse view of sex. In today.s internet age, where children can easily access pornographic web sites, seeing those images can unleash many conflicting emotions in them. That chilling reality makes "Ted, Just Admit It" even more provocative in the 21st Century.

"Mountain Song", has been burned into the musical memory of anyone who banged their head in the 90s, a cascade of power riffs, pummeling drumming, and Farrell's nearly incoherent rants about machine guns and the ilk. "Jane Says" is a great VU knockoff and the closest thing to a ballad on Nothing's Shocking.  The emotionally crippled title character seemingly stepped out of Reed's cast of misfits. "Jane says/ I've never been in love/ I don't know what it is/ Only knows if someone wants her/ I want them if they want me/ I only know they want me/ She gets mad/ And she starts to cry/ She takes a swing but/ She can’t hit/ She don't mean no harm/ She just don’t know/ What else to do about it."  

"Standing in the Shower…Thinking" is a welcome relief after "Ted, Just Admit It."  A funky rock piece similar in style to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Farrell’s pseudo-philosophical musings on relationships, competitiveness, and power are balanced by the shower taker's amusing "the water is so piping hot" (wink) sensation. "Summertime Rolls" lopes along at a dreamy, lazy pace appropriate to the theme of the song. Children frolic and play tag in the tall grass as the singer and his girlfriend lie naked in the sun. In the same way, the jazzy, one-minute long "Thank You Boys" helps to take the bite out and closes the LP on a quirky note.  For an '80s update of psychedelic, California cool, Nothing's Shocking is a mesmerizing listen, as fresh today as it was nearly 30 years ago and all the more intense if its raining and your dog died.