Thirty years ago, Jane’s Addiction released their debut self-titled album on the indie label Triple X Records, and helped bring freaky, weird-ass music into the public eye for all to enjoy.
Back then, some were calling it “alternative” before it was a thing, and Jane’s Addiction were riding the crest of the tsunami wave that brought this type of unique and eclectic music to a new demographic that was forming called the “Generation X”.
A few years later, the alternative music boom happened, with Seattle and its “grunge” bands given most of the credit. For popular music, there was no going back. Popular music and its fanbase had morphed, and the reign of glam metal which dominated most of the 1980’s was over.
Triple X Records
Before we get into the album itself, I want to say a word or two about Jane’s Addiction’s first label, Triple X Records, for the sake of context. If you didn’t know, Jane’s first manager, Charley Brown, co-founded the label with partners Dean Naleway, and Peter Heur.
This LA-based indie record label had done releases by many notable names in the punk rock world, such as Social Distortion, The Vandals, Angry Samoans, and Mojo Nixon, for starters. It was also associated with names like Bo Diddley, Dr. Dre, and L.A.P.D. (pre-Korn band), so it was definitely a mixed bag.
Triple X wasn’t a big label, but in terms of influence on the music scene, it was huge, helping to champion a new spirit of anything-goes for a new musical era. One of the main things it was known for was embracing artists that didn’t really fit into any strict category or genre, as even punkers were known to stick to a very specific aesthetic. Jane’s Addiction was a perfect example of such a band that really didn’t play by any rules, and so they were perfect for Triple X.
Jane’s Addiction Debut Album Review
Now, on to Jane’s Addiction – the self-titled debut album. When you listen to this album, through the magical viewfinder of history, it’s kind of like seeing some kind of weird animal roaming around your neighborhood that no one’s ever seen. Some people thought it was pretty cool and interesting, other people grabbed the phone to call…who? Animal control? The cops? NASA? Just what is this thing grooving to it’s own beat? Is it a dog? No, no, just some kind of part hyena, part mountain lion, with maybe some gils on its head and eyes on stalks, a baboon butt, and bat wings…and one frog leg left danglin’! In other words, basically an alien life form, or a mutant.
Whatever it was, before society was more accustomed to musical freakshows by way of festivals like Lollapalooza (again thanks to Perry and Jane’s), this album was a total underground thing, but it was bubbling up through the cracks of mainstream media.
Sonically, the Jane’s debut album combined metal, punk, funk, goth, poetry, sex, violence, anarchy, unity, with general catchiness. It was something that no one had ever seen or heard before, and this essentially live disc (recorded live at the Roxy Theatre in LA, with some overdubs after the fact) does its best to capture that manic energy, so that listeners at the time could take it in and try to make sense of it.
The guys responsible for this new sound were Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins, Eric Avery, and Perry Farrell. What each person brought to the mix was special. Eric brought the super melodic and epic bass lines that the songs were often built on. Dave brought his magical bag of guitar tricks in the form of unconventional solos, riffs, and effects (both subtle and not so much) and who’s-that-guy virtuosity. Stephen brought the bundle of exuberance on the drums, that somehow made really dark songs seem fun. And Perry brought…let’s just say a whole lot of personality in the form of lyrics, poetry, and movement. He was the guy that was the crowd, that was him.
On the album, the band tears through what would now be considered a classic setlist with many of their staple cuts, with Whores, Pigs in Zen, and Jane Says being the three biggest tracks as they were re-recorded for their next album. And, of course, Jane Says went on to become one of the biggest alternative rock anthems of all time. The rest of the album is great too, but not as much a part of their current set lists today. I’m talking about I Would For You being one of the all time great love songs, and Trip Away and Chip Away bookending the album with that real tribal element that the band excels at. 1% is another early Jane’s song that still holds up, and My Time is a good song but I don’t think they ever play it anymore. Still, a nice light little tune that showcases their more acoustic side (with harmonica no less).
Here’s a clip of the band playing at the Roxy in 1987…
My Initial Impressions
I remember when I first heard this album many years ago, I was quite confused by it. I had been listening to what I thought were the first two albums (Nothing’s Shocking, Ritual), and then when I came across the Triple X album, I was not sure what it was. Obviously, the date was on it, so I knew it preceded the rest, but I basically just thought of it as a live album (which, of course, it is). It took years to really understand where this album was coming from, in terms of how it “fit in” to the Jane’s Addiction discography, and its significance culturally (deep thinker here). Really, it isn’t rocket science, but again, I was just so used to what I already knew that hearing this album reduced me to a simpleton. The band here is so young, and so full of piss and vinegar on this album, that it took me a second to relate this sound to their later works. Not because its stylistically that much different, but because it is so raw and so in your face, I needed a moment or two to process it.
Of course, the album has stylistic musical antecedents – trippy hard-drug infused bands like The Velvet Underground echo through this album in terms of the druggy glaze on everything, plus some of the drone-y sounds and tribal beats, and the Velvets even get directly represented in the form of their classic “Rock and Roll” being covered on the record itself. It also makes sense to cover the Stones on this album, since Sympathy for the Devil is a fairly groovin’ track, although I’ve read that Dave kind of hates the Stones and never really wanted to be associated with them.
Vocally, no one has a voice like Perry, but it does harken to Robert Plant’s keening wail, and when you add ocean-sized riffs to the sound of his voice, it reminds us of Led Zeppelin, or some other riff-tastic ’70’s arena rock band. There are countless influences that are in effect here, from the punk / metal feel of both early and mid-career the Bad Brains, to some of the goth influence from Bauhaus and Perry’s old band, Psi-Com. In any case, people weren’t exactly sure what to make of this album when it was released, but one thing that everyone could relate to from the get-go of Jane’s Addiction was their live energy, which this album captures perfectly.
I think that this album does two things pretty good. It captures a snapshot of Jane’s Addiction at a time when this type of genre-hopping music was just being “invented” more or less. Music was entering more of a melting pot phase, and this album was there at the very outset of this phase. On top of that, it represents a legendary band in its early days doing what they do best – playing live. Luckily, someone put the mics in the right spot on this album and so it does actually capture the energy of each of the instruments, plus Perry’s inimitable vocal stylings. Everything I’ve read seen or heard about the band in those days is apparently true, and this album does a bang up job capturing that. Temporally, it’s 30 years later, but, as we all know, music is timeless. And this music definitely steps outside of time.