There are many bands that could be credited to kick-starting the alternative rock revolution of the 1990s. But one band that must be thrown into conversation at all times is Jane’s Addiction, the L.A. quartet that mixed glam rock and metal into a freakshow for all. Volatile, controversial, and in everyone’s face, Jane’s Addiction was one of the early examples of alt rock. They were flamboyant with a message, experimental while being flashy, and they sang about the debauchery of rock ‘n’ roll in regret rather than celebration. But being underground only gets a band so far, and despite the great quality of their 1988 breakthrough Nothing’s Shocking, the band was still L.A.’s dirty secret. With all the hype (and drug abuse) swirling around them, Jane’s Addiction doubled down on the headbanging rock and the freaky alternative to create a flaming blaze of glory.
Today is the 25th anniversary of that blaze, 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual. Featuring the hit singles “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing,” Ritual de lo Habitual was both the peak of their career and the punch that would break the band bit by bit. Perry Farrell’s screeching vocals sounded like they could reach Mount Olympus, with his instrumental foil, guitarist Dave Navarro, shredding until his fingers caught fire. Adding the Flea-esque slap bass of Eric Avery and the jungle drums of Stephen Perkins created nine tracks that each sounded like it could come apart at any second. Ritual de lo Habitual represents the two kinds of Jane’s Addiction: the hard rocking delinquents are on tracks 1-5, and the expansive freaks take up 6-9. There’s the slap-dash funk-rock of “No One’s Leaving” and the swirling psychedelia of “Three Days.” It’s a Jane’s Addiction vodka martini, shaken and stirred at the same time.
The first half of the record is some of the most fun, furious, and fist-pumping rock of the 90s. “Stop!” kicks everything off, with Perkins beating away at the drums like he’s trying to crack them open. Navarro strikes away at his guitar with pounding riffs as Farrell shouts away about living life to the highest power because it’ll all end soon. “No One’s Leaving” has Farrell seeing the connection between black kids and wanting that as well. It’s a hopeful song (despite its ravenous energy) about the integration of young races, with Farrell using the song title as the chorus, stating how no one’s going anywhere despite tensions. “Ain’t No Right” is a rhythmic blast, with Perkins and Avery locked into a energetic groove and almost chasing each other with their rolling beats. But it belongs to Navarro with his blitzkrieg guitar solo. Listeners can hear the beefed-up production on this record compared to Nothing’s Shocking on “Obvious,” which features backup piano playing and clearer vocals on Farrell’s part. In fact, “Obvious” is the oddball of the album, since it sounds more polished than any other track on the album. But it’s redeemed by the hilarious “Been Caught Stealing,” also more polished but still enjoyable. If Jane’s Addiction were ever to make anything close to a “pop song,” “Been Caught Stealing” was the closest they’d ever get (at least, until they released Strays in 2003).
The second half of Ritual de lo Habitual is where things get weird, or “alternative.” Here is where the band used that added production value to get more out of their sound. “Three Days” is nearly eleven minutes of the band building itself up before literally breaking out into chaos. Farrell’s voice cracks in the last two minutes as if it’s his last breath. It’s probably why the following track, “Then She Did,” never seems to break back into that manic energy from before. Then there’s “Of Course,” a strange storyteller with a Middle Eastern vibe. The closing track, “Classic Girl,” is a somber track, with Farrell talking about cuddling up to his dinosaur-themed bed spread while gunshots would go off in his neighborhood. While Farrell may be known for his EDM side-work these days, he’s a solid storyteller.
Twenty-five years on, Ritual de lo Habitual still sounds incredible, especially its first half. Taking out all the break-ups, the drugs, and the egos of everyone involved (and there was a lot of all of that), Jane’s Addiction was a force of a band. It makes sense that they once toured with Iggy Pop and The Ramones, two artists that made music thriving on chaos. Jane’s Addiction, onstage and off, were chaotic to the verge of combusting. Fitting enough that Nirvana would blast into the stratosphere nearly a year later with Nevermind, with Jane’s Addiction putting forth the idea of mixing rock’s segregated genres into a whirl of a new sound. I actually had the privilege of seeing Jane’s Addiction three years ago in Boston, and even after all the hits and misses of their career, they still sounded incredible. Navarro still shreds like the rockstar he dresses himself to be, and Farrell looks like he has more fun on stage than guys half his age. Here’s to twenty-five years of madness that (hopefully) won’t stop anytime soon.