With 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, Jane’s Addiction burst from the Los Angeles club scene onto the national stage, ushering with it a new style of sound.
With a delicate mix of metal, glam, prog, and punk, the album turned into the landmark that set the bar for alternative music.
Like the band itself, Nothing’s Shocking is characterized by excess and volatility. Heavy, layered, instrumentation runs rampant throughout, ushering a mix of tempo changes, mood shifts and harmonies that can best be described as chaotic. The album is difficult to delve into, but it is impossible to deny each member’s musical prowess.
Dave Navarro epitomizes the arena rock guitarist with his unique slashing riffs and soaring solos. He draws stylistically from both ’70’s classic rock and ’80’s decadence, meshing the two to create his own breed of psychedelic metal.
Bassist Eric Avery’s contributions are equally significant. He consistently provides the melodic backbone and often dictates the direction of a song with his hard, resounding grooves. He controls the pocket with Stephen Perkins, one of rock’s most powerful and heavy-hitting drummers, whose unique tribal playing method helps signify the band’s sound.
No member captures the essence of the band more than Perry Farrell, who is one of rock’s most flamboyant and iconic frontmen. Farrell wails with a distinct, domineering vocal style. He has the ability to sound spacey, floating in and out intermittently. At other times, his resounding howl is what drives the band. While his style commands attention, Farrell doesn’t overshadow the other members. He has an acute ear for harmony, and knows when to be silent and when to roar.
The album opens with the rolling bassline for “Up the Beach,” which carries Farrell’s nostalgic wailing and Navarro’s dazed guitar. It’s a teaser that sets the mood, building toward a break that never quite happens. That break materializes in the Led Zeppelin-esque “Ocean Size,” which begins with idyllic guitar strumming before cascading to an upsurge of raw metal force.
“Had a Dad” continues the swell, this time with Perkins’ pounding drums and Avery’s hard-charging bass leading the way. Navarro provides more fragmented guitar-work and Farrell’s vocals are angrier and more pointed, giving the song a punk-rock feel.
If any song captures the essence of the band, it’s “Ted, Just Admit It…” It’s an epic, sprawling exploration into the dark side of human nature. Inspired by serial killer Ted Bundy, the lyrics focus on the media’s role in numbing society’s perception of sex and violence.
Each member stumbles slightly over one another’s instruments, as the song beings slow and off-kilter. Farrell’s voice is over-dubbed, echoing rambling sentiments in unison with a recording of a Ted Bundy prison interview.
The song slowly builds steam before meandering off again. When it seems as if each rise will never become visible, the song reaches its sweltering crescendo. Farrell screams, “Sex is violent!” on repeat. As the band erupts, a rapid drum solo by Perkins gives way to Navarro’s slashing guitar and the deep pounding of Avery’s bass.
“Standing in the Shower Thinking” is a more light-hearted romp, displaying the band’s funkier elements. Navarro and Farrell seem to have fun playing with the grooves laid down by the rhythm section.
“Summer Time Rolls” is an elegiac ballad that finds the band moving at a slower pace. The entire song works around Avery’s poignant bassline. Meanwhile, Farrell’s lyrics and vocals are on display as he sings unhurriedly and longingly over minimalist drum work, and a sparse, haunting guitar.
“Mountain Song” is a hard rock cut steered by Avery’s pounding, rolling bassline, while “Idiot’s Rule” is another demonstration of the band’s punk element, with harsh vocals mixing over a scorching guitar and funky bassline. It’s a sharp contrast to “Jane Says,” become the band’s signature ballad. It was written about Farrell’s relationship with a girl who was addicted to heroin. She is also the inspiration for the band’s name.
Only two chords are used in the entire song, but it’s the simplicity and passionate delivery that makes it memorable.
Queue “Thank You Boys,” a brief, jazzy, intermission, complete with horn treatment and applause. If Jane’s Addiction made elevator music it would sound something like this. The strange interlude doesn’t last long, thanks to the punk-infused “Pigs in Zen.” Featuring Farrell’s signature screaming, Avery’s thumping bass, and Navarro’s choppy guitar, it serves as an abrasive send-off that is only fitting.
Ultimately, what makes this album work so well is the unique chemistry and balance within the group. Despite the individual talent and ego, there is no single star on display. While each member is clearly aware of their abilities, they never seem to overpower one another, which greatly benefits the album. The end result is a collective unleashing more powerful than most.