Decades later, the Los Angeles quartet’s third album remains refreshing and ruthless
Formed in 1985 in Los Angeles—at the epicenter of flamboyant hair/glam metal—Jane’s Addiction were nonconforming and go-getting from the start.
As many other admirers and writers have pointed out, they joined other CA contemporaries like Primus, Faith No More, Fishbone and, most notably, the Red Hot Chili Peppers in fusing bits of thrash, prog, funk, ska, and more into albums that were artsy, adolescent, and ambitious at the same time. (Of course, this also meant that they served as the bridge between said gaudy metal and the early ‘90s grunge craze.) In that way, the area was sort of like the successor to San Francisco and England in the 1960s: a place of quick and gargantuan musical changes, producing many top-tier artists with similar styles who nonetheless staked out their own identities and impact. All these years later, we can see that if Jane’s Addiction wasn’t definitively the best of those bands, they’re were surely the most tragically short-lived (although they had a respectable comeback in the 2000s).
In terms of initial studio records, the band was comprised of unmistakable frontman/pianist Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins, and bassist Eric Avery (all of whom have had strong success outside of Jane’s Addiction, too). Following the dissolvement of Perry’s post-punk band, Psi Com, they gained popularity quickly with their first two LPs: 1987’s self-titled live album and 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking (which, impressively, was released by Warner Bros.). As beloved and successful as those two collections were, though, there’s no denying that their sophomore studio sequence, Ritual de lo Habitual, is their magnum opus. Braver, weirder, and denser than its predecessors, its fusion of styles from across cultures and categories is still remarkable and influential.
Even though the end result was triumphant, the creation of it was fraught with inner turmoil and frustration. In particular—and as reported in Brendan Mullen’s book Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction—the rest of the band were shocked at Farrell’s demands regarding publishing and writing royalties during the making of Nothing’s Shocking. This hurt the relationship between him and Avery, specifically; that tension, plus the band’s fluctuations with drug addiction (namely, heroin), meant that they—like the Beatles during their last couple of years—could really only tolerate each other enough to create music. (Things only got worse during the subsequent tour, with the first Lollapalooza festival—co-created by Farrell and meant as a farewell for the band—ironically ending with Farrell and Navarro fighting onstage.)
While they didn’t necessarily create it knowing that it’d signify the end of the group (at least for a decade or so), Ritual de lo Habitual sounds like they put out all the stops to make it a conclusive and all-encompassing statement. Created at Track Record in North Hollywood by Farrell and returning producer Dave Jerden—who’d previously worked with Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, and Social Distortion—it incorporated a few orchestral instrumentalists to give it more range and complexity. Likewise, its two-part structure is quite striving and rewarding. (The first few tracks are unrelated hard rock tunes, whereas the latter few connect as a poignant and eclectic dedication to Xiola Blue, Farrell’s former girlfriend who died of a heroin overdose in 1987, at only nineteen-years-old.)
As with Nothing’s Shocking, Farrell created the cover: a cartoonish nod to the album’s sixth track, “Three Days,” that depicts a ménage à trois (between Farrell, Xiola, and his other girlfriend, Casey Niccoli) amid spiritual allusions. To appease those who found such imagery obscene, a “clean” cover—black text on a white background, comprised of the band and album names alongside the First Amendment—was offered. That said, they still got a jab in about censorship with this statement on the back cover:
Hitler’s syphilis-ridden dreams almost came true. How could it happen? By taking control of the media. An entire country was led by a lunatic… We must protect our First Amendment, before sick dreams become law. Nobody made fun of Hitler??!
Unsurprisingly, most critics loved Ritual de lo Habitual upon release, with NME, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Q being among the most enthusiastic. In 2003, it was ranked at #453 in Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” and in 2005, it was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It did very well commercially, too, selling 500,000 copies in its first month (and eventually going 2x Platinum). As Billboard’s Chris Harris rightly suggests, that immediate profitability led to “label executives scrambling to sign underground independent acts, in the event Ritual wasn’t just a sales fluke for Warner Bros. Records. Soon, David Geffen would hook Nirvana, Epic would ink a deal with Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots landed at Atlantic Records.”
Even today, Ritual de lo Habitual is audaciously confident and surprisingly wide-ranging. Opener “Stop!” begins with actress Cindyana Santangelo—whom Farrell met in rehab—saying, “We have more influence over your children than you do. But we want them” in Spanish. Clearly, that’s a bold, creative, and revealing way to start, and combined with Farrell’s “Here we go!” shout over classic rock fury, it sees Jane’s Addiction declaring their vivacious dominance. Luckily, it goes on to offer irresistibly dynamic and cool chaos, so it’s no surprise that it was later used in various other pop culture mediums, such as Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 4, Burnout Paradise, Anger Management, and American Dad!
By and large, the rest of those first tunes sticks to the same template (which isn’t a knock against it, mind you). There’s the scratchy rebellion of “No One’s Leaving”—a tribute to his older sister’s love for black culture and companionship—as well as the dub reggae seductiveness of “Ain’t No Right”; the surreally self-assured “Obvious” (featuring Geoff Stradling’s sharp pianowork); and of course, hit single “Been Caught Stealing,” a hypnotic and carefree bit of musical swagger with an great guitar solo from Navarro and a Jackass-esque music video that captured—if not predicted—the MTV generation zeitgeist. As strong as these tracks are, though, they really serve as the more accessible appetizer to the prog-rock tinged suite that follow.
VIDEO: Jane’s Addiction “Been Caught Stealing”
The longest song here, “Three Days,” is a three-part contemplation on death and rebirth. It was inspired by Nigerian Afrobeat innovator Fela Kuti, as well as journey songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” “Dream On,” and “Free Bird.” It transforms patiently from an arid elegy to an edgy ascension, culminating in an explosion of fiery guitarwork and curious tribal percussion. It’s moody, motivated, and meaningful, making it an instant gem.
Next, “Then She Did…” reflects on both Xiola and Farrell’s mom (who committed suicide when he was four) via a sunnily breezy dirge whose electric violin surely evokes Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” and “Kashmir.” The penultimate “Of Course”—which Avery refused to play on, so engineer Ronnie Champagne did—comes in next with a decidedly stronger and more laidback Eastern vibe that touches on Farrell’s bully of an older brother. Then, “Classic Girl” concludes the set with “a very English goth sound”—as Navarro aptly puts it—that’s dreamy, romantic and hopeful. You almost have to clap along during the final percussive breakdown, and it was wise of them to leave listeners feeling positive. (They even wish you a “good night” before they go.)
Thirty years on, Ritual de lo Habitual remains a classic. Although it’s delayed follow-ups—2003’s Strays and 2011’s The Great Escape Artist—were good enough, neither usurped this one as the band’s crowning achievement. Really, it’s one of the best records from that time and place; it’s thrilling, personal, expansive, retro, innovative, and wholly satisfying in ways that few, if any, of the records released by those aforementioned peers could match.
Each member has certainly done great stuff outside of Jane’s Addiction, too, but they were perhaps never better than when they were together, culminating in the magic they conjured up here.