Nothing's Shocking

Jane's Addiction

Warner Brothers, 1988

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/19/2016

Alternative rock in the 1980s almost always borrowed from punk and garage rock in sound and spirit. They may have enjoyed Zeppelin and art rock, but they would cling to their Clash and Big Star records until the end of time. Jane’s Addiction was at the forefront of the movement to blend the two together. Along with Soundgarden and maybe Faith No More, it suddenly became cool to mix big riffs into the underground sensibility.

These guys came out of the same decadent Los Angeles club scene as Guns ‘N’ Roses, and both followed similar career trajectories; a little-heard debut, followed by a killer hard rock album that brought commercial and critical success. GnR was far more mainstream, of course, but smarter and less posed than their contemporaries. Jane’s Addiction was just as dangerous, rocked just as hard, but had more of an art-rock, fey edge that the legions of Zeppelin imitators hadn’t quite been able to capture. Guns spoke to the popular hair-metal kids; Jane’s spoke to the arty, sensitive misfits (Goths, punks, etc.), at least for a time.

This album, along with R.E.M.’s Green, helped the eventual push of alt-rock into the mainstream, but it’s important to remember that Jane’s Addiction were originals, and Nothing’s Shocking still retains a weirdness and mystique all these years later. There are plenty of Dave Navarro hard rock riffs and solos all over the place to put him in any discussion of guitar hero, but his playing fits the songs and never succumbs to showboating. Perry Farrell, of course, sings in a high, keening voice that takes some getting used to. Other than Billy Corgan and that dude from Crash Test Dummies, Farrell may have the most divisive voice of the alt-rock movement.

But Navarro’s guitar is the true selling point here, and his attitude and street smarts brought a missing link to what could easily have been an indulgent vanity project with a provocative frontman and little else. The two schools of rock mesh perfectly on track after monstrous track, from the instrumental opener “Up The Beach” to “Ocean Size” to the second half of “Ted, Just Admit It,” which starts monotonous but morphs into an urgent, sleazy rocker about Ted Bundy, with Farrell frequently yelping “Sex is violence!” until Navarro drowns him out.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But like all great albums, the variety on display here is astounding. The powerful rhythm section of drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery (Farrell’s childhood pal) is every bit as important to the music. Witness the horns on “Idiots Rule,” the bucolic “Summertime Rolls,” the goofy jazz interlude “Thank You Boys,” and the steel drums of “Jane Says” to know that these guys were more than art-sleaze.

“Summertime Rolls” and “Standing In The Shower…Thinking” are the two weak links on the disc, slowing the momentum in the middle, but showcasing a tendency toward the epic and a commanding presence all the same, which would be exploited to great effect on Ritual De Lo Habitual. Things come back to focus with the heavy “Mountain Song,” one of the finest alt-rock songs in a decade full of them and one that should have been on the radio in place of whatever Whitesnake or Warrant or Great White or Cinderella were doing at the time. To that end, “Pigs In Zen” seems to be poking fun at the genre, with Farrell’s spoken-word section spitting out dumbass hair-metal phrases that would have been seriously uttered by others at the time. The song itself rocks as hard as “Mountain Song,” more irreverent fun than trashy MTV pop metal of the day, along the lines of the smart rock that Living Colour was making around the same time.

Yet for all the hard rock and variety on display, the album’s most honest and memorable moment is the two-chord acoustic stunner “Jane Says,” the song that has outlasted the album and is probably this band’s best-known moment. Farrell sings a tale of addiction and creates a memorable character study – you can’t help but shout “She can’t hit!” when he does, right before Jane starts to cry, even though she don’t mean no harm. The song is more of a narrative and doesn’t follow a conventional verse/chorus structure, but the clarity of the guitar is pushed as front and center and drives the tale; it’s very well written, catchy, and the album’s highlight.

Nothing’s Shocking pushed the boundaries of what alt-rock could be, bridging a gap and helping usher along the alt-rock movement. Were it not for these guys, it’s unlikely Nirvana would have broken through to the level they did, and of course, Lollapalooza wouldn’t have happened. And although Ritual De Lo Habitual gets more press, this is actually a far stronger, more consistent album that doesn’t (well, rarely) give in to indulgence. It’s a record of its time that never sounds like it’s of its time, an audacious, provocative, influential piece of work that mostly holds together.

Rating: B+

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