OTE: Nick Southall, at the time of this review, has not listened to Strays and is acting primarily as interviewer to Karim Adab, who has heard the record.
Nick Southall: There are two reasons I haven't bought Strays yet. Firstly I don't like the idea of any band having a reunion, and secondly (and most important), it's got a rubbish cover.
Karim Adab: Yeah it has. It's a little gay for my liking.
NS: It ought to have a papier maché sculpture of Perry sodomising a nun with an elephant's tusk, not a common-or-garden band picture. Band pictures aren’t what Jane’s Addiction are about, surely? I was about 16 when I first heard Ritual, and it was a hell of an experience. Lots of drugs were involved and the artwork suggested that was the way it should be. I’m a bit gutted that they’ve gone from that to this.
KA: It’s not such a problem when the contents are akin to being forcibly raped by a man who used to be a woman who used to be a horse though. It’s a very loud record, even by today’s standards.
NS: But is it dangerous? Because I’m worried that it won’t be. I need Jane’s to be dangerous and superhuman. During their initial existence they always looked like aliens, superheroes, cartoon characters that were cut from some awesome, secret, blasphemous graphic novel about the trials of sex and drugs and rock and roll, and what’s more that was reflected in the music. I’m worried that they’re just ordinary blokes now, making a record because they’ve got nothing else to do.
KA: It’s not especially dangerous in the context of it being a Jane’s Addiction record because they can't get away from what they've already done, and they can’t repeat what they’ve already done either. Navarro has had a pretty fucked up existence though hasn't he? He's still pretty dangerous I’d imagine, certainly more so than the next man, just not in the context of what went before in his own career.
NS: True. He's like Dorian Gray too, he doesn’t appear to have aged, whereas Farrell (who’s older, admittedly) looks like a bag of cutlery that’s been left out to dry on someone’s porch. Ritual sounds like they're on the verge of collapse at almost every point, and judging by the aftermath of that record and the whole Lollapalooza thing they were. It's such a bizarre and disjointed album, confrontational and spaced, an incredibly druggy and disorienting experience. But it still manages to have a system of morals; they just don’t get applied to drugs or sex! I'm worried that they may have mellowed spiritually and morally if not sonically. Ritual isn’t great and disturbing because it's loud; it's great and disturbing because it's fucked up and amoral and surprising. I get the idea that Strays is going to be incredibly ferocious musically, accomplished and powerful, but that it’ll be lacking the other extremes.
KA: The riff on the opening song sounds not like they're intent on playing their instruments but rather destroying them. It's more punk than funk; I like the fact that it's pretty straightforwardly loud. The single's a reasonable example of what to expect; frenzied yet quite polished. I get the impression that it’s like they just went into the studio and started playing, with no heed towards what they might sound like at the end. And in the process of putting it all together, it sounds exactly like you might expect a Jane's Addiction record in 2003 to sound like, as if that’s all they know how to do.
NS: I wonder if they recognise that they're just ordinary guys in a band now. On “Three Days” you can hear Perry Farrell sing "all of as are with wings" as if they're fucked up angels, and the key thing is that at that moment they sound as if they might be. Have they got the capability to stretch in those strange direction anymore? Is there anything as irreverent as “Been Caught Stealing”, say?
KA: No. Strays isn’t mentalist enough to veer off in that kind of direction, it's all too tight. All the songs are very well formed and as such there’s nothing that off-kilter. I don’t think they’ve got the ideas these days, or the bloody mindedness to pursue those ideas if they did have them. It's definitely not the work of super heroes, although ironically enough there is a track called “Superhero”, which, again, is much in the same ilk as the single. Probably most interesting is "Wrong Girl", which stutters to begin with and threatens to bounce off the walls, but it becomes....chastened by its own chorus, as if it burns itself out before it really gets going. "Hypersonic" is pretty gonzo, as you might expect from the title, but it’s vibrant rather than maniacal.
NS: Do you feel as if they’re referencing their own history with the material here like John Squire did so obviously with The Stone Roses on his solo album?
KA: No, it's not that calculated. It gives the impression that they went into the studio and just let free the music inside them, but it’s very much through the filter of the last ten years. The mess is still there certainly, but it's been streamlined by expectation and the weight of history. If anything they're not so affected by their own past as they are by mainstream rock music of the past 10 years. Knowing you, the last track is perhaps closest to what you'd be looking for. It's the least linear, and probably has the best melody too. And screaming! Having lived with Strays for a while I think a question that needs to be asked is do we really need QOTSA and Jane's Addiction in 2003? Because with this record they’re occupying the same sonic space.
NS: Interesting idea. They’re both ‘supergroups’, if you will, vamping off late 80s and early 90s alternative American rock and metal but avoiding the stolid and stodgy post-grunge trap. Where do Red Hot Chili Peppers fit in then?
KA: Well RHCP have become a pop-rock chart group with a dash of funk, they’re operating in totally different territory to Jane’s. That's no bad thing though, they’re preferable to Matchbox Twenty or someone, but they've shifted way to the right. I had wondered before I heard Strays whether maybe Jane’s would stand to capitalise on the success RHCP have had, but having heard it I doubt that they will. It’s not Radio 2 enough.
NS: If QOTSA and Jane's are both occupying the rock side, and RHCP are the pop-funk chart band, has anyone picked up the lysergic fuckedupdrugdream banner?
NS: I guess that's why I'm moving more towards electronica for that psychedelic impulse these days, Manitoba and Susumu Yokota do it so much better than rock groups seem to be able to manage lately. Nobody's life is going to be changed by this record, is it? No one’s going to rush out and buy Strays and feel like a different person afterwards. Is that even important anymore?
KA: No, but I think that's too much to expect of a group beyond their first few records. The first time you encounter a band is the most important, and realistically no one’s going to be able to encounter Jane’s Addiction for the first time with this record. There is a band somewhere out there on hold, split up or whatever, who do have the potential to come back with something very different and completely amazing, but I can't think of who.
NS: I tell you who it'll be; Bark Psychosis.
KA: But will they make a mainstream impression? You can't really call something life changing unless it actually changes peoples lives.
NS: One life a lot or lots of lives a little?
KA: Lots of lives a lot. It needs something to break right through, perhaps not make a major public impression, but it needs to eke its way into the mainstream in terms of influence, just because of the undeniable aceness of the music.
NS: Alter the playing field from then on in for everybody who comes after. Is Strays any good though, is what people want to know?
KA: It's good in its own right, but perhaps you're better off listening to it in isolation from the rest of their canon. It's not quite there, but it is definitely a good record.
NS: I guess for a generation of kids under, say, 20, it’s going to be possible to take this record out of the context of Jane’s Addiction as people our age and older see them, but even if they can are they just going to see Jane's Addiction as we see The Sex Pistols? A revolution that already died, that we cant be part of, whoring itself for money?
KA: Perhaps. But fuck it. I think there's still a need for groups like Jane’s Addiction, because no other fucker is doing it. And even Jane’s Addiction at 70% is worth a million Evanescence or whatever.
NS: Amen to that.
Reviewed by: Karim Adab/Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01