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Monday, June 24, 2024

Column: Smells Like the Nineties

Jane’s Addiction paved the way for alt-rock.

Twenty-six years ago, Perry Farrell first sang of his desire to be as big and immovable as an ocean. He did so on Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking, an album that possessed the magnitude of that of which he spoke. Released in 1988, the band’s major-label debut is an alt-rock classic, one of the most distinct records of its day, singular in sound and vision, right down to its totemic album cover, a sculpture of naked conjoined twins with heads ablaze.

Let’s count the ways Nothing’s Shocking affected the modern rock landscape:

1. It gave art rock some muscle. There was a time when art rock was synonymous with elevating brains over brawn, as if rocking the eff out was the sole province of dudes who took shop class in place of Calculus II.

But whoever said that you had to choose between the two?

Jane’s Addiction called nonsense on this false dichotomy on Nothing’s Shocking, an album that was plenty adventurous and yet still as loud, overblown and in-your-face as anything by the hair farmers heard on “Headbangers Ball” at the time.

Remember, this was an album boombastic enough to get nominated for the inaugural Grammy for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.”

It all began with Dave Navarro’s guitar playing. He was every bit the shredder as all the glam metal dudes-who-looked-like-a-lady on the Sunset Strip.

Crank “Had A Dad” and try not to bust out some tasty air guitar licks in response to Navarro’s awesomely over-the-top soloing, which sounded as if his wrists were powered by some pneumatic device.

Go ahead, try, I’ll wait…

See! It’s pretty much an involuntary response, right?

Combine Navarro’s ostentatious playing with Eric Avery’s bulldozer basslines, the jazzy swing of Stephen Perkins’ drumming and Farrell’s up-up-and-away vocal histrionics and you have a band capable of summoning thunder like a gathering of storm clouds disguised as four oversexed Los Angelinos.

2. It made it OK for rock dudes to display their feminine side.

The sound of “Nothing’s Shocking” was plenty macho, the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of Burt Reynolds’ mustache circa Gator.

But lyrically, and in the way the band members carried themselves, Jane’s Addiction challenged traditional notions of masculinity, especially when it came to young rock dudes.

For starters, remember the “Soul Kiss” home video, put together when MTV wouldn’t play the video for “Mountain Song” because it had nudity in it?

In the documentary, Avery, Farrell and Navarro could be seen tongue-kissing one another, most likely for no other reason than doing so would have totally grossed out the guys in Skid Row.

From the way he dressed to the words he sang, Farrell, in particular, challenged the conventions of the male rock god, expressing vulnerability and strength simultaneously while clad in a girdle. Context is important here: This was the late ’80s, the height of hornball hair metal, when Tawny Kitaen did somersaults on the hoods of cars in Whitesnake videos and Winger sang of the temptations of 17-year-old girls.

Jane’s Addiction was plenty libidinous in their own way, but not in such louche fashion. There was a sensuality to their music, filling the chasm of yuck dug by David Coverdale’s wagging tongue.

3. It helped set the stage for the alt-rock boom of the ’90s.

Nirvana rightfully gets a lot of credit for lighting the fuse of the ’90s alt-rock explosion with the success of Nevermind in ’91, but Jane’s Addiction was one of the bands that helped set the stage for it all, beginning with Nothing’s Shocking.

Although not a huge hit at the time of its release, the album was a slow-building success, both commercially and critically, and demonstrated that a square peg like Jane’s Addiction could thrive on a major label.

It was one of those gateway albums that was bombastic enough to appeal to fans of hard rock and heavy metal, opening their ears to less conventional sounds in the process.

As such, Jane’s Addiction helped cultivate the audience that bands like Soundgarden, the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana would later build upon, some of them through the Lollapalooza tour, which Farrell founded.

And it was Nothing’s Shocking that put all of this in motion. Years later, the movement continues.

ESTEFANY SALAS can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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