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So Fresh, So Clean: Jane's Addiction returns to earth with a new album, 'Stray.'

One More Time

Is it better to burn out or fade away? A reunited Jane's Addiction may learn the answer the hard way.

By Michael Alan Goldberg

ALL THE TRULY great rock bands flame out at the top of their game, whether by choice (the Beatles) or circumstance (Nirvana). It's an HOV lane to mythical standing and eternally robust back-catalog sales: that brief but shining moment in the sun and then the longing forever afterward for what might have been.

But temptation exists for those whose glorious goodbyes occur by choice. If all the crucial band members remain alive and in possession of the necessary limbs to play their instruments, then the tantalizing prospect of a reunion--stoked by salivating fans, record labels, concert promoters and perhaps their own fluctuating bank accounts--will beckon until they depart for the great gig in the sky.

Fortunately, some groups (the Pixies, Hüsker Dü) have been smart enough not to tarnish their sterling reputation with a comeback attempt. Even the late Joe Strummer had the sense not to reunite the Clash despite loads of lucrative opportunities. And when he was seriously considering it, well, the Man Upstairs made sure it didn't happen.

The hand of God hasn't touched the members of storied alt-rock progenitors Jane's Addiction. Of course, the eclectic quartet always seemed more aligned with the devil, as per their volcanic, orgiastic art-metal paeans to junkie heartache, freaky sex, twisted love and shoplifting. But after the band's heroin-and-ego-fueled 1991 dissolution following the colossal one-two punch of Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, the thought that divine intervention or anything else would be necessary to stop Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery from ever collaborating again as a unit was laughable, so strong was the intraband hatred.

And by walking away, they defied everything--massive amounts of fame and cash, almost universal critical acclaim, their own transcendent connection as musicians, and the music-industry status quo that dictates when you hit it big, you milk it for all it's worth. The move was brilliant, perfect, myth-making.

But six years and some so-so solo projects later, Jane's "relapsed" with a reunion tour with Flea on bass (Avery wisely refused). The songs were there--they still knew how to tear the roof off--but their protean adventurousness, debauched energy and otherwordly mysticism was lacking. It felt as if they were carefully sneaking a peek over the perilous cliff's edge on which they used to recklessly teeter and dance.

The same can be said of the band's new album, Strays. Certainly there are some high points (the opening triumvirate of "True Nature," "Strays" and "Just Because," especially) where the foursome don the familiar old-style elements: Farrell's high-pitched, echo-laden vocals; Navarro's multihued guitar attack that's alternately hotheaded, expansive, monstrous and judicious; Perkins' propulsive, tribal-thunder drums; a resonant, melodic underpinning from new bassist Chris Chaney; and all the swagger and psychedelic detours they can muster. And there are lesser moments, too, particularly the forgettable metal-funk of "Wrong Girl" and the cloying, requisite acoustic ballad "Everybody's Friend."

From start to finish, Strays sounds like a well-cleansed Jane's. Maybe it's Farrell's lyrics--all apologies instead of confrontations--or his delivery, tonally fit but short on conviction. The songs themselves are solidly constructed but never quite bold, explosive or grand enough to satiate old Jane's fans. It doesn't do justice to the band's original core--a place of dissatisfaction, depravity and desperation that spawned a visceral, riveting sound with the marriage of psychic torment and epic beauty. Little of that vitality is present here, and so Strays, while by no means a dud, is but a shadow of the group's former self.

It's a shame, really. Had Jane's Addiction left it alone for good in 1991, they would have been gods. Now they're just flawed mortals, steadily marching.

Jane's Addiction headlines Lollapalooza on Tuesday (Aug. 19) at the Shoreline. Tickets are $49.50-$69.50. (408.998.TIXS)

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From the August 14-20, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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