The Great Escape Artist is Jane’s Addiction’s fourth studio album. For a band that’s been in and out and in and out and in and out of business since 1988’s Nothing Shocking, four albums may even seem like a stretch. Yet here it is, complete with frontman Perry Farrell’s insistence on moving forward and the band’s revolving door of members settling down long enough to record something.
The seed for The Great Escape Artist was planted in 2010 just after Eric Avery’s departure. A number of musicians came in and out of the Jane’s Addiction fold during the process of writing the record, with Duff McKagan sticking around for nine months and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek joining the band on bass. Former Jane’s bassist Chris Chaney also got his feet wet along the road.
The band considers the process of growth and change as necessary, for it put Jane’s Addiction on the road to right where it needed to be. This record is the culmination of that process, apparently, but it lacks central focus and a sense of identity.
Jane’s is happily vigorous from the outset, leading with “Underground.” The track is packed with impressive effects and a solid riff from guitarist Dave Navarro. Noises shoot through, punching holes in the mix as Farrell hikes through the song’s anthemic yet distorted chorus.
The arena rock sound courses through most of the record and the tracks come refined with a substantial quantity of studio polish. It’s perhaps a fitting sound for a rock band looking to find its way yet again, but The Great Escape Artist lacks the unprotected passion of previous albums. As such, the songs rarely connect emotionally.
Take the chopped-up lead single “End to the Lies.” The track packs thunderous bass and a hefty dosage of reverb-infused effects, but Farrell’s puerile lyrics leave a lot to be desired. “You talk about me so much that I think that you’re in love with me,” he sings, apparently directing his flaccid acrimony at Avery. “Yeah, it’s true. You do. You’re busted!”
Another problem is that Jane’s Addiction seems to have tried to make a Muse record and wound up making a subpar U2 record. This struggle with identity is obvious throughout most of the disc’s 40 or so minutes, with the last song (“Words Right Out of My Mouth”) finally seizing the band’s eccentric, frenzied bravura a moment or two too late.
But comparisons to Bono and the boys are hard to avoid so long as tracks like “Curiosity Kills” are present. Sounding like an Achtung Baby reject, the track really hits its Irish gait when Navarro breaks out an Edge-style guitar solo toward the end.
“Twisted Tales” finds Farrell aping Bono, while “Broken People” and “Irresistible Force (Met the Immovable Object)” provoke dreams of the 360° Tour. It’s only when Jane’s steps out to actually devise something moderately fresh, like the hip electronica of “Splash a Little Water On It,” that we get the sense this California band still knows who it is.
The colourful personalities in Jane’s Addiction have always been quite robust, careening to ill-fated points of destruction and division at times. Sadly, The Great Escape Artist contains very little of that brash temperament and, as a result, is one of the band’s most uninteresting outings to date.
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