Review Summary: "I mean it's serious, as serious can be"
"Hey man, you know Jane's Addiction, right""
"Yeah that band with Dave Navarro playing guitar and stuff, right""
"Yup. What's your favorite song by them""
"Ummm... well, I haven't actually heard any of their music yet."
"Oh... damn. You should, though. Underrated stuff."
Sadly, this is the status that Jane's Addiction have reached over time. While considered a household name in the rock world, as well as the band that founded Lollapalooza back in '91 as their farewell tour, much of their work is considered underground today. Back in the mid-to-late 80s, their music could easily be considered forward-thinking for its time. It served as a perfect bridge between the eccentricity and crazy stage antics of the 80s L.A. glam metal scene, and the raw distortion and visceral energy of alternative metal and grunge. It seemed as though they were looking into the future of rock music, creating a template for other bands in the so-called "Alternative Nation" to follow, but they never lost their own unique sound back in their heyday. Perry Farrell was charismatic and energetic as a frontman, Dave Navarro always experimented with new sounds and layers to his guitar playing to keep it fresh, and the rhythm section of Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery had some of the best chemistry and groove in alternative rock music. Everything came together perfectly, despite the band members' frequent fights and ego trips, and perhaps this is why 1988's Nothing's Shocking was such a good album.
Jane's Addiction certainly weren't on the best terms with each other when this album was being recorded. Right off the bat, Perry Farrell demanded 62.5 percent of the album's royalties for his contributions to the band's lyrics and music, which instantly caused tensions to rise. As if that weren't enough, Farrell started to accuse Eric Avery for trying stealing his girlfriend while drunk. Now keep in mind, this was all during the recording sessions, so a lack of stability between the members would probably make some sense within the album's music... and it absolutely does. Dave Navarro stated that most of the songs on Nothing's Shocking were created from loose jams and there wasn't much of a strict formula used on these songs, and it definitely shows. The epic of the album, "Ted, Just Admit It..." is probably the most telling example, over half of the tune mainly being a long buildup over the same bassline. Just as noticeable and seemingly unfocused is the album's eclecticism, with alternative rock, classic rock, funk, jazz, and other crazy stuff thrown into a blender at different points. In fact, the final interlude "Thank You Boys" is just a one-minute jazz song used to ease the listener into a raging hell of a closer like "Pig's in Zen."
In any case, though, everything still fits perfectly within the context of the band's sound. The group's style does sound all over the place, so it works to have such an odd fusion of genres and personalities clash. Beautiful ballads like "Jane Says" and especially "Summertime Rolls" show that the band still have a very touching side, while "Ocean Size" and "Mountain Song" are heavy-as-hell powerhouses that show Perry Farrell's vocal abilities as he hits some of his strongest (and highest) notes. But in the end, the real draw comes from how well each song works in terms of album placement. No song feels like it's out of place in the grand scheme of things, no matter how outlandish things get. "Up the Beach" is a perfect opening mixture of dynamics that really shows what the rest of the record would display and the album definitely follows this up without a hitch, right until the intense speech that ends "Pig's in Zen." The compositions are all varied, the charisma surrounding every tune gives the experience a distinct identity throughout, and every member means a lot in the long run.
No matter how many problems Jane's Addiction were having throughout Nothing's Shocking's recording, they were performing as passionate musicians first and foremost. They clearly put a lot of effort and care into each note of each song, trying their best to cut a good record in the face of an internal fracture. Well, they made more than a good album... they made a landmark of rock music. It's so sad to see an album like Nothing's Shocking go so unnoticed when considering all of the classic songs it has. There is literally no bad song on the entire record, every one of them succeeding at what they set out to do. So if you're looking for a new gem to add to your collection: get Nothing's Shocking, pop it in, and find out how so many alternative rock bands came to be.