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[whitespace] Perry Farrell Imagine a Satellite Party: Perry Farrell gets way outside on his solo album.

Still Addicted

On their solo projects, Perry Farrell and David Navarro are almost as good apart as they were together

By Gina Arnold

SOMEONE RECENTLY ASKED me who I thought were the most important acts of the '90s, no doubt expecting the answer Nirvana and Pavement. Instead, I had no hesitation in answering the Pixies and Jane's Addiction.

"But they're from the '80s, aren't they?" my interlocutor protested. And it's true, the first LPs from those groups came out in 1988 and 1989 respectively. But their impact was on the decade to come--and it can't be overstated.

Today, teenagers sometimes say to me, "You saw the Pixies and Jane's Addiction live?" as if I'd been at Woodstock, or the Last Waltz or something, and they are right to speak in such tones, since those shows were my personal equivalent of those better-known events.

On my wall, I have the set list for the Pixies' Vienna Show, Sept. 2, 1990--33 songs that blew the roof off the tent they were playing in, a night I will never forget. And then there was Jane's Addiction, on its first four Lollapalooza dates, in 1991: Perry Farrell dueting with Ice T on "Don't Call me Nigger, Whitey"; David Navarro lying down on the stage in 105-degree heat in Arizona, playing guitar horizontally, as we all listened in a daze of heat prostration and awestruckedness (I swear at some points we were all levitating to the music).

And then there was the time in 1993, when the Pixies actually opened for Jane's Addiction, at the San Francisco Civic Center (now Bill Graham Auditorium). They don't make shows like that anymore.

Both bands have inspired many others, but in different ways. The Pixies' influence is pervasive; it weaves its way sonically throughout the music of other, more successful acts (like Nirvana). Jane's influence is more overt. The bands that have copied certain aspects of its style--Limp Bizket, Korn and Rage Against the Machine, to name but a few of the more obvious ones--have gone on to wild success.

But those acts aren't nearly as original, nor as brilliant, as Jane's Addiction, because their singers aren't Perry Farrell and their guitar players aren't David Navarro. This becomes obvious when one listens to both men's first solo records, both out this summer. The records are distinctly different but equally fascinating.

FARRELL IS, OF COURSE, the more famous and influential artist, a guy who has left his mark not just on music but on concert touring (he invented Lollapalooza), raving and film. Navarro is more of the pure rock-star type, a throwback to the days when rock & roll glamour was all about danger and drugs.

There is a book about to be released titled Don't Try This at Home: A Year in the Life of David Navarro, co-written by New York Times critic and Marilyn Manson biographer Neil Strauss, which exploits Navarro's truly marvelous propensity for sex, drugs and destruction.

The book, which was excerpted in a recent issue of Spin, revels in total voyeurism, but one has to admit that Navarro is the right subject for it. I remember standing on stage directly behind him at a Jane's show circa 1993 and being shocked to the core to see that his naked back was decorated with an elaborate pattern of cigarette burns that his girlfriend had made a few moments earlier.

The guy is the real deal all right--a gorgeous (ex-) junkie and a fabulous guitar player. Nevertheless, it's quite a surprise to find that his solo LP, Trust No One (Capitol Records), is as good as it is. Sidemen seldom come up with decent solo records; indeed, it's difficult to imagine the lead guitarists of U2 (Edge), R.E.M. (Pete Buck) or even Pearl Jam (Mike McCready) doing half as well as Navarro has done here.

How could a mere guitarist create a record this deep yet easy to listen to? Two factors come into play here. First, when one comes to think about it, compelling though he is, Farrell is no musician--but someone must have written those incredible Jane's riffs. Navarro is, in hindsight, the obvious author, and Trust No One certainly bears out his talent.

Second, Navarro enjoys a curious advantage over many songwriters: he actually has something to say. According to his press releases, his mother was murdered by her boyfriend when Navarro was in his teens. The murderer--a man whom Navarro liked and trusted--was brought to book seven years later. This tragic incident is the impetus for the CD's title and the theme of most of its songs.

Simply put, the album is about coming to terms with loss and betrayal, beginning with the song (and single) "Rexall," on which Navarro sings, quite poignantly, "I hate my life, I hate my life/I want the life you think I have," through "Mourning Son," which is about missing his mother, and "Everything," in which he states matter-of-factly, "I feel like I should die."

Navarro is only an average singer and not a great lyricist: he has no real way with words or images, and yet, his emotional pain on these numbers rings totally true, in part because of his extreme musical facility.

The swirling, impassioned guitar parts, set within hard rhythms and gentle melodies, make a surprisingly effective counterpoint to his plain-spoken, almost naive lyrics. He himself has called the process of making this record "cathartic," and despite the grim subject matter, it has that effect on listeners as well. It's not a depressing record but a beautiful one.

FARRELL'S SOLO PROJECT, Song Yet to Be Sung (Virgin Records), is a very different animal from Navarro's--more uplifting, but at the same time a little shallower. Farrell clearly intends Song to be more of a dance album than a rock one, and yet he hasn't lost his hard-rock edge.

Farrell likes to make music with exotic touches from other idioms, from Eastern melodies to tribal rhythm patterns (unlike Navarro, whose music is straight out of the white American suburbs). But even when Farrell's music is at its most ambient, it sounds, well, like Jane's Addiction.

Think "Oceansize," and add more of an electronic beat, and you'll get the picture. Indeed, most of the musicians on this record are in either Jane's Addiction or Porno for Pyros--which explains why Farrell plans on touring later this year as Jane's, rather than as Perry Farrell. (Navarro is going to join him, making the proposed tour a must-see event.)

Lyrically, Farrell's LP is much lighter than Navarro's, but at the same time, more articulate. Apparently, while Navarro was busy bloodletting his psychic pain via masses of sex, drugs and recording sessions, Farrell became personally interested in spiritual matters.

He is, for example, a practicing observant Jew, and various aspects of the Jewish faith vaguely permeate this record. He still says nutty, Perry-like things: his description of the LP's sound in the press release, for example, is "imagine if we were having a satellite party, us human beings here on earth. We had a party, and we were all on satellites that could link up and take us --like the Jetsons--over to the next party, the next satellite pad--it was cushy and we were kicking back and having a really great time. And imagine each one of those satellite pads was like a dance club so to speak, complete with lounges and everything else."

But the actual lyrics to songs like "Happy Birthday Jubilee" and "Seeds" aren't nearly as annoying as that description would imply. Farrell has a way with words and an utterly compelling singing presence, and when he says he's gotten spiritual on us, he's not kidding. Song Yet to Be Sung isn't necessarily going to make us all convert to Judaism, but it might make us feel a little bit better, and isn't that what religion is all about?

Farrell and Navarro are still probably better together than they are apart, and it will be nice, later on this year, to hear them playing magnificent Jane's songs like "Had a Dad," "Been Caught Stealing," and, of course, the best ballad of the '90s and the "Stairway to Heaven" of the grunge set, "Jane Says."

There's nothing on either of these LPs to equal those numbers, which dug deep into the angst-ridden anomie of the end of the Reagan era, expressing the rage and hopelessness of those times by somehow finding beauty in a world of abandoned, burnt-out drug addicts and losers.

Those songs are classics, but they are also downers. Possibly the best thing about both Farrell and Navarro's solo efforts is that they, in their different ways, show that there is life--and love, and creativity and spiritual and emotional development--after Jane's Addiction. And that's something I never would have suspected.

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From the July 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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