Top of the Pops: Nothing’s Shocking

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September 23, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

It really makes a ton of sense that both Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers would covet Dave Navarro, as musically, Jane’s Addiction lays equidistant from both GNR and the Chili Peppers.  Or, at the very least, that’s the space where their debut album Nothing’s Shocking hoped to occupy.  If ever there was such a label of ‘Alternative hard rock”, Jane’s Addiction would be one of the only few band able to stake a claim to owning that label as Nothing’s Shocking is, at its core, a hard rock album laced with experimental sounds and ideas.  From the groove of “Idiots Rule” to the unorthodox “Ted, Just Admit It”, Nothing’s Shocking offers a hard rocking foundation with an alternative draping designed to sharpen its already lethal edges.

The most interestingly peculiar thing about Jane’s Addiction is that the band member who should have the least amount of input actually holds the most amount of sway in the band—Lead singer, Perry Farrell.  This is evident in his 62.5% share of royalties (A very Axl Rose-esque move) and according to guitarist Dave Navarro, Farrell’s obsessive need to dominate every aspect of the songwriting aspect.  If Navarro, drummer Steve Perkins, and bassist Eric Avery were all incompetent musicians, then this behavior would be justifiable, if not warranted.  But, such is not the case, and often times on Nothing’s Shocking it seems like Perry Farrell just isn’t pulling his weight.  Farrell is possessed of the same vitriolic mania that plagues Axl Rose, but unlike Rose, listeners are never made aware as to the object of Farrell’s ire.  Nor do his lyrics contain the same miasmic and philosophical rage that made Rose’s lyrics so heartfelt and identifiable.

Farrell’s lyrics range from non-sequiturs (“Now sister’s not a virgin anymore”), to pointless banalities (“The water is so piping hot, it beats upon my neck, and I’m pissing on myself”).  However, what Farrell lacks in talent as a vocalist or songwriter, he more than makes up for with his ferociousness and vitality.  More than anything really, it’s been the band’s vivaciousness that proves to be their greatest strength on Nothing’s Shocking, and throughout the band’s career in general.  Tracks like “Pigs in Zen” and “Idiots Rule”, which are flat-out, unrestrained rockers, explode through the speakers and surge through listener’s vein like a shot of adrenaline.  Because maniacal zeal is an innate trait of the band, whenever they try and slow down the pace on Nothing’s Shocking, more often than not they sound restrained, like they’re purposefully chaining themselves down.  That’s why longer, more harmonious tracks like “Ted, Just Admit It”, and “Summertime Rolls” don’t really gel with the rest of the album.  It isn’t because they aren’t as raucous as the rest of the tracks, it’s because on those two tracks it sounds like the band is purposefully suppressing themselves and trying to tone down the rambunctiousness which makes them so charismatic in the first place.

Ironically, it’s the mellowest cut on the album, “Jane Says”, an homage to the band’s namesake and muse, which proves to be one of the standouts on Nothing’s Shocking.  The simple, repeating chords, and lyrics detailing a procrastinated escapism grounds the song and allows it to stand on its own alongside harder and more up-tempo songs.  And unlike most songs by Jane’s Addiction, “Jane Says” comes off as being strangely sincere, almost to the point of sounding personal.  As a result, it never sounds forced or fake.

Besides the poorly disguised filler that is “Standing in the Shower Thinking”, and the two misplaced jams of “Ted Just Admit It”, and “Summertime Rolls”, Nothing’s Shocking is an album rife with ludicrous solos and brimming with vibrant zest.  On the album’s opening tracking “Up the Beach”, the band sounds almost spiritual as if Farrell’s humming is actually a Zen-seeking chant.  Like a tidal wave and typhoon duo, “Ocean Size” and “Had a Dad” rush to engulf unsuspecting listeners lulled into a false sense of serenity.

From that point on, Nothing’s Shocking doesn’t hold much back as Jane’s Addiction decided to cut loose with everything they have.  The rhythm section of Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery is linked in concert throughout the entire album, and Navarro, the MVP of Nothing’s Shocking plays the guitar like his fingers are bolts of lightning impatiently eager to crank up the voltage and cut loose with the full fury of a tempest.

Nothing’s Shocking gives listeners the quintessential Jane’s Addiction track with “Idiots Rule”, a hedonistic charge into the unknown.  Who are these idiots?  Society?  You?  Me?  The band itself?  Who know, but who really cares?  High-flying, incendiary rock music is what the band was really all about.  To add to this, closing out the album is “Pigs in Zen”, the band’s most RATM sounding song, complete with a pointed, yet totally enigmatic and unnecessary rant by Perry Farrell.  Although unlike Rage Against the Machine, Dave Navarro didn’t feel need to cop a Jimmy Page riff in order to write this song.

Nothing’s Shocking is a strong debut for Jane’s Addiction, albeit with some drawbacks.  They don’t need to be melodious just for the sake of doing something different.  It’s when the band does what it does best; make hard rock music with a distinctly alternative flavor to it that the album really thrives.  They never had to be Guns N’ Roses or the Red Hot Chili Peppers; all Jane’s Addiction had to do was be Jane’s Addiction, and for fans of the band, that was more than enough.


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