Hard-livin' grunge veterans make implausibly good return
People who think alt.rock began with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ are way off the mark. Back in 1988, before the rubbish non-word “alt” was invented, before Nirvana had released a record, before the Chili Peppers had grown out of comedy funk and, all right, slightly after the Pixies put out ‘Surfer Rosa’, Jane’s Addiction released ‘Nothing’s Shocking’. Everything that became grunge cliche was born here: cross-dressing frontmen, cock-flashing, songs about serial killers, dirty riffs, irony and the whiff of heroin. Their 1990 follow-up ‘Ritual De Lo Habitual’ was even better, a period classic to rate with ‘Nevermind’, ‘Doolittle’ and ‘Daydream Nation’. Then, having invented a whole genre’s worth of new cliches, they fell to the oldest ones in the book, splitting up at the height of their powers over drugs and girlfriend trouble.
Which makes this comeback record nothing short of a miracle. Fortysomething former smackheads who’ve not spoken for a decade have reformed before, but the results are always – how to put this? – shite. Perversely ‘Strays’, is one of the best rock albums of 2003. Why? Well, Perry Farrell reckons Dave Navarro gets all the chicks (currently Carmen Electra) because “he’s the best guitarist in the world right now”. He’s not far wrong. On ‘Strays’, Navarro wails, chugs and funks with a flamboyance hardly anyone tries these days. On ‘Just Because’ it’s morse-code licks, like an ultra-heavy Edge. On ‘True Nature’ its depth-charge riffs intercut with psychedelic soloing, like Led Zep gone nu-metal. Meanwhile Farrell wails away in his weird, reedy voice, always multitracked and out of tune with itself, blathering on about “men of peace, men of war” (‘Everybody’s Friend’) and how nice he’s feeling these days (‘The Riches’).
Sound unfashionable? It is. ‘Strays’ is only inches from being a psychedelic Guns & Roses. But that was always the appeal: Farrell and Navarro were the Axl and Slash it was okay to like – although Jane’s hated them. Born out of the same sleazy LA milieu of strippers, surfers, stoners, bikers and trustafarians, Jane’s brought glamour, intelligence, danger, sex appeal and genuine rock excitement to a world full of earnest plaid shirts. Substitute “plaid shirts” for “retro obsessives” and you’ve got a bang-up-to-date reason to welcome these strays in from the cold. This rocks, full stop.