Released: July 22, 2003

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So it’s finally here then: the legendary Jane’s Addiction’s much anticipated comeback album. What’s all the fuss about, you might ask yourself. Well, just over 10 years ago (13 to be exact) these guys from California released an album hailed by critics as one of the defining rock records of the last decade. We’re of course talking about 1990s Ritual de lo Habitual, a near perfect blend of catchy tunes, heavy riffing and bizarre lyrical themes with plenty of attitude. In other words, the perfect soundtrack to the musical revolution of the early nineties which brought what had earlier been labelled “alternative rock” to the forefront.

The question that needs to be answered in relation to the new album is a fairly simple one: Has the wait been worthwhile? It’s a welcome comeback no doubt, but is it also a return to form? We’ll comment on that a bit later on. First we need to know why it has taken them over a decade to record a follow-up to Ritual. The group split shortly after releasing their commercial breakthrough, and seemingly for no obvious reason. It might be suggested that drugs played a vital part in the process. However, all members remained musically active; enigmatic front man Perry Farrell kept himself busy organizing the infamous Lollapalooza tour whilst recording with intriguingly named sidekick Porno for Pyros. A subsequent solo effort saw the light of day in 2001, receiving mixed reviews. Guitarist Dave Navarro also put out a record under his own name in the same year as his band mate, but earned more notoriety a few years earlier after enjoying a spell with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Navarro made a major impact on their best album to date, 1996s One Hot Minute, by adding a distinct metal touch to the band’s sound. A Jane’s Addiction reunion tour compromising the original lineup, with the exception of bassist Eric Avery, was announced in 2001, and the following year the band went in the studio to record new material. The result is Strays, supervised by veteran producer (of Aerosmith, Kiss and Pink Floyd) Bob Ezrin.

The most striking thing about the new album upon the first couple of listenings, is its relative similarity to their earlier work. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” seems to have been the central guideline in the recording process. And who can really blame them for not tampering with the magic formula that has served them so well previously? This means it’s still all about hard rock with that little twist of something extra to it. Opener “True Nature” sets the tone for the entire album with the driving guitars and catchy chorus. Farrell sings in his trademark voice, and it feels very much like time has stood still since they were at their peak. This impression remains more or less through the whole record. This is a good thing in the sense that it proves the band is still capable of writing great songs with a fine eye for details. But, it’s also a bad thing insofar as it reflects that Jane’s Addiction – once the masters of alternative rock – are no longer able to (or willing to?) reinvent or develop their music by including any new elements into it. In short, they’ve gone from being leaders to becoming followers. This comes as a bit of a disappointment given Farrell’s reputation as somewhat of a creative wizard.

So what we get is a fairly hard-rocking album, mixing straightforward rockers with more complex and imaginative song structures. There are some really good songs on it, but also some less memorable moments. Worth mentioning are “Price to Pay,” “The Riches” and a wonderfully atmospheric acoustic piece, called “Everybody’s Friend”. Some of the other tracks, however, are too much alike and thus difficult to keep apart. To wrap things up, we may answer the question posed earlier by stating that although Jane’s Addiction’s return is a welcome one, it fails to impress. If one can accept the fact that the band isn’t going to make another groundbreaking record like Ritual, the new material does the job of a contemporary rock album quite well.

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