Rediscovering: Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual

I’ve disliked, nay, hated plenty of albums on Rediscovering, but not yet have we had the opportunity to revisit a loser–on their follow-up to their featured album, no less! Not too long ago, we covered Nothing’s Shocking, a frankly kind of boring hard rock record that somehow has achieved “classic album” status. How will Jane’s Addiction fare this time around? Was it simply a bum record? Should I try their others?

Jane's Addiction's Ritual de lo Habitual

Well, let’s find out. The follow-up to Nothing’s Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual, everybody! (And yes, I physically have the “clean cover” version. The artwork in these posts always matches my copy. I’m not missing anything; musicians doing their own art rarely makes for appealing covers.)

My previous experience, if any

Aside from Nothing’s Shocking and the history I described in that Rediscovering, a big place I was exposed to Jane’s Addiction growing up was, of course, rhythm games. “Stop!”, this album’s opener, is notable for being one of the two master tracks to be featured in the PS2 version of Guitar Hero II (the Toadies and My Chemical Romance joined Jane’s and Primus for the 360 version), and “Been Caught Stealing”, also on this album, possibly Jane’s signature song and certainly their biggest radio hit, was in Rock Band 3. I like both those songs a lot, thus two out of nine hits without even having listened to it…surely this one would add up to a pass?

The history lesson

Ritual is Jane’s big experimental album. Two of the songs hover the ten minute mark, another takes a page from the book of klezmer–the album even starts with a nice bit of spoken word Spanglish! Within a month of being released, it sold half a million copies. Alice Cooper himself has wondered if Jane’s Addiction would become to the youth like Chuck Berry was to him. The man who wrote “School’s Out” asked if this group of Los Angeles heroin addicts would do to 90’s rock what Chuck Berry did to 50’s rock. Rather high accolades, all in all!


Well, shit. I think I might like this less than Nothing’s Shocking.

I laid on my bed the first night I tried this one and somehow fell asleep to it. The first half of the album is as heavy as you’d expect, while the second half of the album is a big, progressive suite of songs ostensibly about the death of several prominent people in the lives of the Jane’s lineup, not that you’d be able to tell from listening to it. You can stop listening about halfway through and have gotten all you can out of Ritual, which honestly isn’t much.

I rarely feel like I do a good enough job of describing the sound of albums I cover these days, so let me try to break down Jane’s Addiction member by member and show you what they do on this album, and see if you get an idea why this does nothing for me.

Let’s start with the rhythm section. I’m normally the first person to celebrate a drummer’s idiosyncrasies, but across either album, I can’t say I really know a Stephen Perkins drumbeat when I hear one. Given how often Jane’s changes him out for other kinds of percussion, I don’t think they know either. I praised their bassist, Eric Avery, for his songwriting skills on the last one, but here, the entire album is written by the whole band, supposedly. With a lot of the slow, sleepy shit in the back half of this one, his playing, which is usually pretty aggressive and he varies it up with slapping as much as he does picking, is pretty muted and boring as a result.

That leaves the singer and the guitarist, and they deserve a closer look. Perry Ferrell’s voice is nasal, yelp-y, and incredibly one-dimensional. Even when he’s quiet, he never switches out of the same register he uses for screaming. It’s either high-pitched or high-pitched and a little strained because he’s singing louder.

Lyrically, the man says nothing of interest. There’s ostensibly some progressive anti-racism, spiritual, and moral stuff across this album, but God, I can’t pick it out. Everything he sings sounds like the same druggie mumbling that everything else does:

Motherfucking bad wind came, blew down my home
Now the green grass grows
Bad wind came, blew down my home
Goddamn goodness knows

Where green grass grows
There can’t be wrong
And goodness knows
There ain’t no right

Like a lot of bad lyricists who’ve been featured on Rediscovering, he doesn’t stick out until he start singing something genuinely bizarre. “Of Course” provides a brilliant example. If you look on Genius, you’d be told that this is a song about the increasing inhumanity of humanity, but the only time you hear words and not just mouth noises is when he’s singing “My big brother […] made me slap my own face”.

This is followed with the observation that the big brother was merely trying to teach him…”something”. What that would be, I’m not even sure Perry Ferrell knows, but he sure does like repeating “slapping yourself in the face” a lot over this bed of klezmer stomps and fiddle jitters.

That leaves guitar. Dave Navarro. I described his technique as being rather boring and his tone as being pretty colorless in the Nothing’s Shocking Rediscovering, and that’s still true here. For the heavy half of the album, I’ll be damned if I can remember a single riff or a single solo that wasn’t on the two songs I knew going in. On the quiet half of the album, he plays so straight and gets so little texture out of his guitar that it doesn’t do a lot to enhance whatever the fuck the mood is supposed to be here.

Playing straight would be alright if it wasn’t for the fact that Jane’s writes hard rock as mood pieces, but fail to evoke any sort of mood in any of their songs except “okay, this is the loud part” and “okay, this is the quiet part”. “Then She Did” tries to trade these two off, but the quiet bits amble aimlessly until they hit the big loud bits, and then those amble aimlessly instead. At its most extreme, it sounds like the songs all start and stop in the same place. The final track, “Classic Girl”, just sort of ends! It doesn’t tie up any loose ends, it doesn’t round out the album–nothing.

And that’s Jane’s biggest problem. They have two songs, a single key they operate in, and not a single clue about dynamics. “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing” don’t have a ton that resembles a traditional verse-chorus structure, but you can tell which is roughly meant to be which. I can’t say that about any other song here. And anyway! “Stop!” is just plain a lot of fun, which is the mode you’d prefer Jane’s in, and “Stealing” shakes, rattles, and rolls its way down the grocery store aisle with a rather kooky video in tow. This is genuinely a band that, if you’ve heard the singles, you’ve heard everything worth hearing.

It reminds me of how the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band rather similar in their funk-metal sound (and having even shared Dave Navarro for an album) and subject matter, manage to make that work where Jane’s doesn’t. Anthony Kiedis might like singing out of his nose about sex and California, but his dominant, booming howl evokes something entirely different than his softer, higher-pitched ballad voice. John Frusciante plays rings around Dave by understanding the concept of texture and space, and unlike Jane’s rhythm section section, Flea and Chad Smith have a recognizable pulse and sound to their technique and their instruments.

Oh yeah, and they can write songs. I was listening to “Desecration Smile” earlier. They sure can write songs.

Are you keeping it?


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