jane's addiction - nothing's shocking

Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

Jane’s Addiction always brings up a very specific sense memory for me: driving to high school with my friends in the backseat of a station wagon, transitioning from the suburbs to the country, hearing these songs mixed in with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix (it was always the Smash Hits compilation), and Minor Threat, among others. Ritual de Habitual may have been the chart breaker as it rode the alternative wave in 1990, but I always preferred the hazy, Zep-heavy debt of Nothing’s Shocking. Recently my brother and I went record shopping looking for the songs we grew up with, and whereas his Perry Farrell fix came from Porno for Pyros (we’re seven years apart), mine was with the OG. This just came in on vinyl yesterday, so no better time to give it a fresh spin.

The first thing I always think of when it comes to Nothing’s Shocking is the opening verse of “Had a Dad”. My father left when I was 11, and there was something cathartic about shouting “I had a dad / big and strong / I turned around / I found my daddy gone.” That and the opening riff to “The Mountain Song” – I think when I started playing guitar it was one of the first things I figured out that I could play without sounding like I had only been at it a few weeks. It’s a simple but deceptive riff – without the right feel and swing you have none of the swagger that Navarro brings to the song. Listening back almost 25 years later that sense of “simple yet deceptive” plays out throughout the entirety of the album.

It’s easy to summarize or write off Nothing’s Shocking due to its many earworms, largely the result of Perry Farrell’s take-it-or-leave-it delivery. “The water is so piping hot!” is another one that comes to mind from “Standing in the Shower…Thinking”. But musically the whole album is a beast of woozy, psychedelic riffs that shows a band locked into their own groove. It starts immediately with the intro opener “Up the Beach” and then transitions into the mammoth “Ocean Size”. The Zeppelin influence is huge here, not only from Navarro’s big leads and chords, but the way Eric Avery’s bass moves all over the place, never content to simply reinforce the beat. Not that he has any need to, because the other secret weapon of Jane’s Addiction has always been Stephen Perkins. Lyrical earworms aside, Farrell provides just enough hippy drippy vocals lines to get the songs done, but his strength is more in his unique delivery and his frequent ooohs and aaaahs, or even an “Ah, boba-bobo!” according to what Apple Music tells me in the opening to “Had a Dad”.

I’m kinda fine with that. I’ve come to accept that music for me is about 85% the instrumentation and maybe 15% the words at this point in my life. Maybe it’s my growing older at an accelerated rate ears, where the nuance of syllables often get lost with the frequencies sacrificed in the name of loud music played at loud volumes in headphones. Maybe because of that, Farrell’s earworm phrases get hooked more and that makes me like this album more than I should. I doubt it, though. I’ve gone through Side A about six times in the last day and it’s fantastic. The different moods and textures a song like “Ted, Just Admit It…” goes through, from its drunken guitar heroics in the beginning (again, over Navarro’s never ending distorted chime of huge power chords) to Farrell’s constant echoed refrain of “Sex is Violent!” – catchy and transgressive was still a new thing in popular music in the 80s – is a rollicking barrel of energy. I love when things becomes frantic with Perkins seemingly hitting every single snare and tom at his disposal as Avery and Navarro get frantic on the higher registers of their instruments.

The second side feels like a more sedate affair, similar to what the band would do on their massive follow-up album. But even that is deceptive in its simplicity. “Summertime Rolls” starts innocent enough, with its free poetry set against heavily delayed guitar lines and soft washes of sound. But that sound gradually grows until the second half has Perkins coming in with his Bonham drumming and Avery’s bass accenting the roll of the rhythm. Then it’s the stone cold monster that is “Mountain Song” which full out worships Zeppelin without a glimmer of shame. Farrell again utilizes his ability to wield ohs and ooohs and yeahs like a blade, and the song crashes in a fiery brilliance as it ends. It kicks directly the funk of “Idiots Rule” which further signposts the kind of direction the band would take on their next LP. I know a lot is made of Flea’s presence on the track playing trumpet, but I always remember that second to the fact that Angelo Moore of Fishbone is also there, honking his sax in what I assume is nothing but his socks – let it stand as a reminder that I needed to cover both Truth and Soul and The Reality of My Surroundings for the site soon – but it feels slight, more of a brief reprieve before setting into “Jane Says” which was the breakout track of the album.

And it SHOULD be the breakout – for the first time Farrell’s word ring with an honesty the previous songs didn’t, and the band’s restraint shows they know exactly where the emphasis needs to be in the song. It’s one of the best songs the band ever did, perhaps owing to the honest taken from life nature of the content, about the band’s namesake. From there it resolves with the slight and silly “Thank You Boys” because on the vinyl there is “Pigs in Zen”. I think that makes more sense from a sequencing perspective. As great and fun a straight up rocker as “Pig’s in Zen” is, it feels like a tacked on afterthought coming at the end of Nothing’s Shocking. Maybe for the CD and cassette it would have been better served sequenced somewhere in the middle…I don’t know. I dig the song, and I grew up with it on my CD, but I can’t say I especially miss it on the vinyl.

So it goes…

jane's addiction

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