Anyone who knows Perry Farrell even remotely knows that he’s an ambitious guy. After all, he popularized the mega-sized outdoor festival format in North America in the early ’90’s with Lollapalooza. He’s also responsible for one of the best and most ground-breaking alternative rock bands ever to emerge from the United States – Jane’s Addiction.
The guy has game, and he has never been afraid to use it. Because of his huge magnetism, he has always attracted other musicians who want to work with him. After the dissolution of Jane’s Addiction in 2003, Perry hooked up with Extreme’s very own guitar god, Nuno Bettencourt to form an ambitious new band – Satellite Party – in 2007. Nuno and Perry were the driving creative forces behind this new project, with Nuno performing multiple instruments on Satellite Party’s first (and so far only) album, Ultra Payloaded. Both Perry and Nuno co-produced the record, with Steve Lillywhite presiding as ultra-overlord producer.
The list of musical contributors behind the album quickly grew to become very long, including such surprise guests as New Order’s Peter Hook, to Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, to John Frusciante and Flea of the Chili Peppers, as well as notable electronic acts Hybrid and Thievery Corporation, and the list goes on. Even long dead Jim Morrison somehow manages to guest appear on this friggin’ album.
Now, despite being jam packed with A-list musicians of all kinds, I can’t help but get the impression that this album was a rebound album from the start. Jane’s Addiction once again broke up in late 2003, and, a few years later, we have this album crop up by a brand new band (Satellite Party) that is so ambitious that it seems impossible to live up to its promise.
This album kind of tries it all. It tries to be a concept album, with liner notes that speak of a loose plot of the Solutionists, a party in the sky hosted by “Jim”, and the convenient mentioning of many of the song titles featured on this party to tie it all together. But, if you ask me, this plot is a bit half baked, and doesn’t really add much to the album. Meaning, if there is a concept going on here, feel free to ignore it…like, completely. This album ain’t no “Kilroy was Here”, I tell ya. And it’s certainly not Ritual de lo Habitual, which also presents us with notes written by Perry.
The way I hear this album, it’s not a complete shitshow, but it’s also nowhere near as grand as it purports to be. I think the truth is that Ultra Payloaded is somewhere in the middle – between totally awesome, and kind of ok. It depends what day I listen to it. See, it changes, and it confuses me by being both good and bad. Here’s the boys – Perry and Nuno – on one of Satellite Party’s relatively rare live dates back in
To my ear, it has some of the same problems that Strays had. These problems are a bit hard for me to describe, but, in a nutshell – there’s nothing wrong with Ultra Payloaded, and yet somehow everything is wrong with it. Yeah, I know that doesn’t sound too sensible, but it has something to do with the fact that at a certain point Jane’s Addiction became (or worse – *tried* to become) a mainstream rock act. And I have a bit of a problem with these types of acts. They’re just a bit too…smooth. It’s all just a bit too…controlled, safe, neatly balanced.
That said, in theory, Ultra Payloaded sounds almost like the best thing ever to me, and me especially. For instance, I like movies that everyone else hates (or are completely indifferent to), and I hate movies that everyone else loves (although this isn’t a movie, granted). For instance, I hated High Fidelity, but I love… The Stoned Age. Anyway, nevermind. Ultra Payloaded has all sorts of awesome guest stars, and it rocks pretty hard when you turn it up real loud. The music is fairly interesting, and Perry sounds like Perry, doing what he likes to do. His voice sounds like it’s in fine form here, and maybe more versitile than usual.
Songs like “Wish Upon A Dog Star”, which features a very hook-y bassline (pun intended), Porno for Pyros’ Peter DiStefano on rhythm guitar, Nuno on leads, and programming by Welsh electronic band, Hybrid. And yet, as cool as this song sort of is, it lacks the quirky organic quality that early Jane’s Addiction had. This is much closer to “contemporary” rock music (ahh, not that!!), and has that vibe of a bunch of people with no particular chemistry thrown into the same room to write a song that they have no interest in writing, really. Of course, to suggest that these guys jammed this song out is possibly / probably not even true. My guess would be they just sort of Pro Tools-ed it, one person at a time, but I really don’t know. This all might sound a bit harsh to fans of Jane’s or Perry, but I think that impression of randomness does pervade this album, and it makes me not like it as much as I would if it were a Jane’s album, or Porno for Pyros, even.
To pick on another song perhaps unfairly, the second song, Only Love, Let’s Celebrate seems to nick the main hook from Rare Earth’s I Just Want To Celebrate, and uses it as this album’s “let’s party” calling card. I don’t know, I just don’t feel it. To me it’s just a tacky move. Like, I get it, good job, but I don’t feel it. But of course, I’m kind of a cynical jerk and I hate when people go out of their way to tell me to party. Stop telling me to party, ok? So, maybe it’s me.
Ok, I’ll lambaste one more song, cause, well, why not? The third song, “Hard Life Easy”, which has Perry jamming with John and Flea from RHCP, seems to rip lightly on This Velvet Glove, which is a song I really like from Californication. I didn’t really notice until I heard John play a sequence of his magical notes and now I can’t stop hearing it. This song really does kind of bother me. I don’t care for the lyrics, I don’t like how it’s a RHCP C-side, and, also, there seems to be like 18 musicians playing on this track to make it what it is. God damn it, guys.
Rather than find things to complain about for the other 8 songs (Ultra Payloaded has 11 songs total), I will say that I am somewhat a fan of certain musical aesthetics, and so maybe if this album wasn’t nimbly constructed by a “cast” of professional musicians in order to serve Perry’s desire to throw a musical be-all-end-all party in the sky, I might somehow enjoy this album more. Like, if 1987 Jane’s Addiction tried to “cover” this album, it might be kind of cool somehow, because it would lack the assuredness of a bunch of studio musicians calmly laying down all their parts. Instead, what I’m hearing is a sort of trite album of lame and sexual come ons, unnecessary musical nods to other artists, and a sort of watered down mysticism / new-age-y-ness that permeates all the tracks.
And, look, you gotta understand – I actually *like* An American Prayer. I actually *like* Pornograffiti. I actually fucking *love* electronic music (when it’s done a certain way). Yes, I know, it’s all really subjective. Maybe you’ll like…no, LOVE this album. There’s a lot to love here. The musical performances are good – really good, even – and, compared to a lot of other music, these songs aren’t bad at all. I just don’t particularly love any of these tracks. I don’t know if I ever will love any of these tracks. There’s that one dead stop in the punk-esque Insanity Rains that only lasts half a second that just sounds like they kind of artificially Pro Tools-ed it so there’s no air left just so it would sound like a clean stop. To me, that about sums up the album. Rather than sound like this raw, real, and live jammed out album (like Jane’s used to sound like), Ultra Payloaded gives you a payload alright, all over your face!