Rediscovering EXTRA: Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking

This is like the third soft reboot Rediscovering has experienced in the past year, my god. That’s alright, we’re gonna get going while the going is good. Pour one out for my stereo before we begin! It appears that I now have to hit the eject button extra hard to get it to register, so that’s nice. I almost thought I’d have to dismantle the stereo to get my CD out (which I have had to do before…)

Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking

This is an interesting disc as I already know several of the songs going in and the band in question has not one, but two CDs in the pile, the only artist to be covered twice (practically half their discography!). Here’s Nothing’s Shocking, the major label debut of the legendary hard rock and supposedly alternative band (but I’ll get into that) Jane’s Addiction.

My previous experience, if any

Jane’s Addiction is a perennial radio band here in the states, to the point where the LA Times even wrote an article on how “Jane Says” has managed to hang on despite never having been a single. They’re even closer to my heart when you consider how often they’ve been in various rhythm games–“Stop!” in Guitar Hero II, “Been Caught Stealing” in Rock Band 3, this entire fucking album as Rock Band DLC–and yeah, it works great for it. Despite all the familiarity though, I own two different Jane’s Addiction albums and have touched neither of them. Let’s solve that today.

The history lesson

Nothing’s Shocking stands as Jane’s de facto debut, the first time these guys spent time in a studio bitching at each other. The album almost didn’t get recorded thanks to singer Perry Ferrell wanting over 60% of the royalties (50% for lyrics and another quarter for music) and then, of course, actually getting it. Despite the troubles, Nothing’s Shocking is apparently one of the crowning achievements of hard rock, one of Rolling Stone‘s 500 best albums of all time, and yeah, you can play the entire thing in Rock Band, putting it up there with The Cars, Legend, Doolittle, Peace Sells, and other such landmark albums in that honor.


The easiest way I can describe this album is that it’s very much the kind of thing you’d want to play in a rhythm game. Every instrument is active, clear in its own area in the mix and blaring with the best kind of overdone 80’s production, and damn near half these songs have a guitar solo on them. If you’re a big fan of pneumatic drums–I mean snares that sound like they’re pushing fucktons of air around–look no further.

Let’s start on a good note: band is tight. Dave Navarro is definitely a flashy and very technically skilled guitarist, even if he really doesn’t leave an impression. Eric Avery’s basslines fucking rule, and turns out, he’s written my favorite songs here, including the aforementioned “Jane Says”. Perry Ferrell’s voice is distinctive, but his lyrics are nearly always forgettable. He injects a kind of obsession with sex and sleaze into a lot of the record, right down to the cover art of a melting wax sculpture of two naked conjoined twins, which was apparently partially made from a cast of his own girlfriend’s body. Nice.

A lot of Nothing’s Shocking gets by more on sound than it does on hooks, and that’s the first problem we should address. Especially in the first half of the album, this is hard rock as sound exploration, and that very much does not work in its favor. The first four songs are a no man’s land of big guitars and strung out Perry Ferrell screams that just do not go anywhere.

Jane’s Addiction doesn’t have the subtlety to explore a topic for seven minutes, yet they try that somehow on “Ted, Just Admit It…”, a three-part cock rock epic that doesn’t build up so much as it’s glued together. A rumination on Ted Bundy’s attempt to blame murdering people on his childhood exposure to pornography mostly gets boiled down to Perry Ferrell screaming “sex is violence! sex is violence!” repeatedly, as a motif, throughout the piece, and it did not keep my interest throughout. Actually, pretty much the opposite–it’s numbing. I have no clue how anyone can consider this powerful music.

Hard rock is a genre that needs big, obvious hooks, frankly. Guns n’ Roses is going to be the band I compare Jane’s to here (which might be sacrilegious, I don’t know). Listen to “You Could Be Mine”, and then listen to “Ocean Size”. They both have the same sort of drum sound, they both feature guitar theatrics, both of their singers are very high into their registers throughout.

Thing is, “You Could Be Mine” is catchy. “Ocean Size” is not.

In a decade where guitar tones were getting absurd, sounding less like guitars and sounding more like industrial equipment (J Mascis, Steve Albini) or like black holes (Kevin Shields), Dave Navarro’s big dumb metal tone and boring “time to shred d00d” subtlety with solos ironically perfectly matches how colorless a lot of this record feels. Even by shredder standards (which the 80’s had plenty of), Navarro doesn’t wonk his guitar out nearly enough to actually catch your ear. There’s no harmonics, no dive bombs, no bizarre tunings, no guitar-as-sound–just heavy riffing or quick solos. Nothing in between.

And on that note–we just referenced three actual alternative bands from the same time period, Dinosaur Jr., Big Black, and My Bloody Valentine. What about Jane’s Addiction is truly alternative? What actually separates this album from other 80’s hard rock other than the kinda bizarre subject of pissing on yourself mid-shower? If you go with the music historian idea that Nirvana was the start of weird in the mainstream, Sonic Youth is pretty much directly responsible for Nirvana even being considered for a major label. Jane’s Addiction doesn’t factor into it. What ground did they actually break?

The only time it feels like Jane’s really manages to make lengthy subtlety work is on “Summertime Rolls”, a gorgeously trippy ode to love and nudity supported by a warm, gently-radiating bassline, and funnily enough, another Eric Avery tune. In fact, returning to the big one, “Jane Says”–this is the single song on the album where everything just comes together perfectly. It’s simple (no big dumb riffs here), the lyrics are actually pretty touching, a look at the former addict with an abusive boyfriend who inspired the band’s name, and that “I’m gonna kick tomorrow” chorus gets stuck with me far more than it should.

I wonder if reordering the album would help. On any other album, I feel like “Thank You Boys” would close the record (and indeed, on vinyl, it does close the record) and “Mountain Song” would open it. It’s nonsense, but it’s fun nonsense. It’s catchy nonsense. Instead, the good songs are bunched up in the back and the songs you’ll happily skip take their sweet time getting you there. After a long time knowing only the singles from this record, I can pretty safely say: stick with the singles.

Are you keeping it?


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