Today I will review the album Ritual de lo Habitual by legendary L.A. rock band, Jane’s Addiction.
The album featured two different covers. The original album cover is shown above, featuring Santerian-inspired artwork by Perry Farrell made from chicken wire and papier-mâché that many stores found disagreeable and would not sell due to the nudity portrayed, not to mention its glorification of 3-way sex. The other cover, dubbed the “clean cover”, features a white sleeve with only the band’s name, the album’s title, and text from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution written at the bottom.
Released in the summer of 1990, Ritual was, in many ways, the last hurrah of the vitriolic band who would be heralded by some pundits as the best L.A rock band to ever whip their dicks out on stage, right up there with other big L.A. bands that have been known to lack social graces from time to time, like Guns N’ Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Doors.
Pictured below is the band’s original lineup, who played on Ritual de lo Habitual: (left to right) Dave Navarro (guitar), Eric Avery (bass), Stephen Perkins (drums), and Perry Farrell (singing, lyrics).
Lit To Pop
When Ritual came out in the summer of 1990, the music industry was poised for a big change. Jane’s Addiction had already secured themselves a juicy contract with Warner Bros. in 1988, which paid for their first major label record, Nothing’s Shocking.
Nothing’s Shocking showed the world that a new style of music was ready to be embraced – one which straddled numerous styles at once, including metal, punk, funk, rap, and musical influences from around the world. When Ritual came out, it became a standard bearer for this new kind of musical hybridization.
After Ritual was released and the band toured behind the album for about a year, several things happened in short order. The band ceased functioning due to legal battles and drug use, then they broke up, and then the band’s demise gave birth to Lollapalooza. I find it funny that Dave Navarro has gone on record to say he remembers almost nothing of recording Ritual. After many years, is still my impression that most fans feel as though Ritual de lo Habitual was Jane’s Addiction’s last truly great album.
Ritual de lo Habitual – A Track By Track Review
Much has been said and written about this album, some of which I find to be true. For instance, there is definitely an influence from what seems to be middle and far eastern musics, but there may also be strong vibes coming up from the south (that is, in relation to Los Angeles), as in Mexico, and the musics of Central and South America. In addition, I can hear influence from neighbouring islands like the Big Island itself – Hawaii, not to mention the ancient cultures that once occupied the U.S.A., meaning the Native Americans. Many of the influences I hear seem to uphold the same paganistic views that the band does, or did, have. The musical influence that I am hearing, comes from both far away, and not so far. It seems to come from all around.
Ritual de lo Habitual starts off with the beautiful Cindyana Santangelo, speaking words in Spanish. We hear the following announcement:
señores y señoras
nosotros tenemos más influencia con sus hijos que tu tiene
pero los queremos…
creado y regado de Los Angeles
…which translates into english as:
ladies and gentlemen
we have more influence over your children than you do
but we love them…
bred and spread in Los Angeles
This message, crafted by Perry, seemed to rebuke the stereotypical idea of demonic rock bands stealing the hearts and minds of a culture’s youth and leading them to corruption. Instead, Jane’s Addiction seem to be saying that they are the new minders of the youth, but parents need not worry. How reassuring for parents to hear this from this gang of freaks, I’m sure. But before there is time to give that message much thought, the first chords from “Stop!” explodes into existence and the band is off and running. And – too late – your children are gone with them.
Track 1 – Stop!
“Here we go!” The first track, “Stop!”, lays out some sort of loose plan to get your jollies while you can, since the world is, after all, “lit to pop and nobody is gonna stop”. This celebratory song has always been one of my favorites, providing a huge blast of frenetic positive energy and exuberance that allows the listener to forget their troubles and rock out with abandon while it lasts.
With this initial sonic volley underway, we hear the same killer rhythm section that was established on Nothing’s Shocking, featuring all four original members – Stephen, Perry, Dave, and Eric – boasting major chops that intertwine and play off each other at every turn. As mentioned, around the time of this recording, the band was not getting along with one another personally, but you’d never know it from this opening track, which sounds like a band completely united in their sound.
Here is the official video for “Stop!”
Track 2 – No One’s Leaving
Once “Stop!” crashes to a halt, like a beluga whale falling out of the sky and landing in your neighbours swimming pool, the bass-and-drums funk intro of “No One’s Leaving” wastes no time in boxing the listeners’ ears. I find this song to be rather odd (still to this day), but I think that that is part of its appeal. I enjoy this song’s slightly off-kilter feel, but it does settle into a unique groove that I find makes more sense with repeated listening. Personally, I like this song better when they do it live – not to take away from the studio version. But dig this live version’s energy from a 1990 show in Milan…
As you can hear, “No One’s Leaving” features some cool stop-start breakdowns and unexpected guitar stylings. Dave’s guitar, I find, is often the icing on the cake with a lot of these songs. He not only provides rhythm, but he adds extra layers of crazy solos and evocative textures that really supe up each song just that little bit extra. I do think a lot of guitarists took note of this, realizing that you can add a lot more than just rhythm guitar and solos. There’s a whole ethereal world of guitar-created sonic textures out there which can do wonders for a song as well, as is the case here.
Track 3 – Ain’t No Right
The third song, in a classic trio of pulse-pounding tracks, is “Ain’t No Right”, which might just be my favorite Jane’s song ever, on any given day. I dig the weird dub-style intro with Perry talking in some kind of skaggy patois, and then how it jumps into Eric’s rolling bassline coupled with Stephen’s drumbeat, which sounds like someone trying to ride a huge wave and simultaneously invite the kids home for dinner after playing outside all day.
When the full song busts in, it crashes into you like said wave and sweeps you up, and away everything goes – you, the trash, the kids, girls bikini bottoms – just everything. I have to give props to producer Dave Jerden here, for making the instruments sound massive in the mix, but also undoubtedly helping to paint pictures with sound. On one hand, I hold Dave Navarro responsible for coming up with some of the extra sonic frills that make this album more epic.
However, I would surmise that Dave Jerden had a hand in piecing this album together in such a way that we experience it more as a thematic work of art than just a series of tracks. After all, Jane’s Addiction wanted Mr. Jerden from hearing his work on such masterfully produced albums as The Talking Heads’ “Remain In Light” and Brian Eno’s “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts”.
Here, I must show this clip of the band rocking “Ain’t No Right” from their 1990 show at the Hollywood Palladium. This version later was included on Kettle Whistle, released in 1997.
Track 4 – Obvious
Not to stray away too far from the album itself, but Jane’s early performances are the stuff of legend. That said, as “Ain’t No Right” ends on the album, we have a second to breath before “Obvious” kicks in.
For those who might have been concerned that this whole album was meant exclusively for moshing, crowd-surfing, slam-dancing, and general head-banging, Obvious descends from the heavens and shows you that Ritual isn’t just an album of quasi-punk songs, and this next one focuses more on sheer beauty and texture more than anything else, although it does rock pretty hard as well.
Although Obvious has often been played faster live, I think of it more as a mid-tempo rocker as we hear it on the album, and yet another “statement” song, with Perry responding in the lyrics to the pathetically “obvious” nature of his haters. At least this is my take on the lyrics. Although the lyrics are rather cryptic, Perry has never been one to shy away from braggadocio – calling out bullshit and openly responding to those who oppose him.
Musically, “Obvious” once again evokes the crashing of waves, with an instrumental that is equal parts beautiful and powerful, with heavy rolling groove that starts to hint at some of their more exotic influences to be found on Ritual. Again, the breakdowns and turnarounds are epic.
Track 5 – Been Caught Stealin’
“Been Caught Stealin'” steps into the fold to remind listeners that the band has an actual sense of humor, unlike the majority of rock bands who try to keep things as serious as humanly possible. It’s one of those songs that is just so wacky and weird, you can’t really categorize it. Is it a novelty song? Sort of. Is it a rock song? Well, yeah. Overall, the song clearly doesn’t really care what it is, and just lays down a funky groove and goes on its merry way, with some nifty breakdowns and a generally fun vibe.
I’m fairly certain that this is Jane’s Addiction’s most known song, since it often gets played on alternative radio stations to this day. The video, that many people have seen, was directed by Casey Niccoli, who was Perry’s muse at the time and figures largely into the album’s lore, with at least two songs being written about her. I must admit, I always loved “Been Caught Stealin'” for some of the reason others probably hate it – the dog barking, the weird pseudo jazz chord structure, the crazy-silly video, and the infectious groove. Plus, I like how the video endorses stealing, with the band members shoplifting and I also like how we get to see a bunch of weirdos doing random stuff. Must be just like shopping in downtown L.A. on a Friday night.
I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for this song, a lot of people would have never discovered this band in the first place. It was their breakthrough hit that made them MTV staples. Why don’t I ever get sick of this damn song?
Track 6 – Three Days
Now we arrive at “Three Days”, which is sort of like the band’s “Stairway To Heaven”, if we want to keep comparing them to Zeppelin, and “The End” if we want to compare them to The Doors. This song is a 10+ minute ode to having a three-way, and Perry sets the tone by saying that “you should be here with us” in his “city of candles”. Whether or not you feel like taking Perry’s invite, the song starts to build and eventually comes to a huge climax not once but twice…or maybe three times. Personally, I can’t help but get into this song. The artwork on the front of the album is basically about this song, with Perry, Xiola, and Casey being entangled in a mystical type of romance that is not often written about in song – particularly a song this grandiose.
Musically, I do think the sections naturally flow together and the constant building of tensions in the song is great, especially when you get to hear the release. I’ve heard some critics talk shit and say this is one of those big bloated songs that is just overly indulgent, but those people are fucking stupid.
Every time I think to myself that Dave is the star here with some of his more flamboyant guitar playing, I listen again and hear how much the bassline carries the song or the drums are just going berzerk. And, of course, the song wouldn’t be what it is without Perry’s poetry and singing. I’ve always dug this clip of the band recording the song live, from the movie Gift…
Track 7 – Then She Did …
After “Three Days”, the direction changes. The band takes us in a totally new direction of serene and ethereal beauty with one of the more laid back, beautiful, and heartfelt songs on the album, and probably of all time – “Then She Did …”. This song is actually about the suicide of Perry’s mom, combined with the death of his former lover Xiola Blue from drugs. For such heavy subject matter, the song presents an equally emotionally heavy track that manages to be both hard rocking at times, while also being extremely pretty and makes me picture all manner of gorgeous imagery, if only in my head. There is so much emotion packed into this song, and we also hear some of that exotic influence from faraway lands that I mentioned earlier. It’s really beautiful, sad, and yet hopeful at the same time.
Just for fun, here are the lyrics. For the longest time, I never really understood what Perry was singing.
And I looked outside,
At the corner boys
I don’t know?
I spread them across the floor
So this is where they are shown
Now they’re probably saying to you,
“If you keep it up you’ll be born..”
But you will never listen
Scorched by the sun
The buildings remain
We will beat them all to dust
That blinked on and off hotel
Now the nameless dwell
They hold your key and turn your knob
Would you pay a visit to her?
She was an artist just like you were
Would’ve introduced you to her
She would take me out on Sundays
We go laughing through the garbage
She’d repaired legs like a doctor
On the kitchen chairs we sat on
She was a unhappy just as you were
Unhappy just as you were
Unhappy just as you were
Unhappy just as you were
Track 8 – Of Course
“Of Course” takes us further away from conventional rock with a song that explores the middle eastern tonalities and features more of the sublime violin work from award winning violinist Charlie Bisharat, who puts his personal stamp on this album with his tasteful and yet clearly virtuosic playing. Where they hooked up with Charlie, I don’t know, but it would seem that he has appeared on many, many albums playing violin, so perhaps they simply hired him.
I feel at this point we are learning some difficult life lesson courtesy of Perry’s cryptic chanting, some clapping, and the words which talk of “slapping yourself in the face”. Spiritually, we are no longer in Los Angeles, I would say that is for certain. The lyrics for this song are among the most existential, I find – just a rumination on life and death, and ending with a realization.
Musically, I feel like I am now out at sea, simply on a raft in the middle of the ocean, letting the tides take me further and further away. This isn’t the worst feeling, although now it would seem like the more rocking elements of the album have faded away, replaced with some exotic dirge in the style of the Velvet Underground. If the listener has made it this far, they are certainly more open minded than your average rock fan.
Here is the band playing “Of Course” live in Holland in 1991.
Track 9 – Classic Girl
Finally, we come to “Classic Girl” – the album closer. With the first half of the album being more of an uptempo affair, the album closes off with another song that focuses on beautiful arrangements and more of a mid-tempo groove.
This song, as is clear from the video if you’ve seen it, is all about Perry’s love for Casey Niccoli, who he married in a beautiful ceremony in Mexico – although apparently the nuptials were not legally binding, once they returned to the U.S.
“Classic Girl”, with its lush sounds and romantic leanings, is a perfect closer to an album like Ritual, which takes us through a wide range of emotions. By now, it would seem we’ve gotten a little something of everything. Personally, I am glad the album front-loaded all of their hard and fast stuff, because, at this point, I feel like the album comes to a natural close and we even get a “goodnight” to send us off.
As you can probably tell from this review, I do like this album. Some may have called it over-indulgent, but that can be taken as a compliment I think. When it comes to music, I find that music itself some a type of indulgence, so calling something an “over-indulgence” is like saying this album is about equal to eating a pile of Twinkies, which I think is not a fair assessment. If anything, this album is like living a day or a week in someone else’s very interesting shoes. Stepping right into their life, and then, after a while, leaving. I had a nice time. I always come back to visit.