Ritual De Lo Habitual
by Justin Hall
Originally For: Nude As The News
In Spanish, "Ritual De Lo Habitual" means the ritual of the habitual. Taking our daily lives and making them sacred, or taking our addictions and making ritual of them. It's a high-minded mission, and it is for that reason worth celebrating. Most albums are content to share a good time (or a sad one) between the artists and the listeners, but some work to make the ordinary and the sordid to appear to us as truth and transcendence.
And so we have Jane's Addiction - picking through trash and shooting up heroin, while taking on rights of personal freedom and making literal art of living. There's plenty of bands doing drugs and talking about it, there's very few who convincingly ascribe a spiritual value to their indulgence. In this way is Jane's Addiction ultimately elegant, like a houseguest who dances on your tables, overflows the toilet, and has read all of your best books and would probably do a good job playing with your young nephew.
Jane's Addiction ripped up the LA music scene towards the tail end of the Guns N' Roses era, the late eighties and into the early ninties. Drummer Stephen Perkins, guitarist Dave Navarro, and the bassist Eric Avery, each of them was six or eight years younger than Perry Farrell, the lead singer. Together they mixed hard rock, funk, drugs, religion, hippy style, surfing, and hispanic influences into a delicious stew that resembled LA in its diversity and seeming incongruity. Farrell, as the song writer and outspoken front man, set an artistic tone for the band with his controversial cover art and off-beat charisma.
Their self-titled first album was a few live songs and a few cover songs (including covers of Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones) published in 1987. The album cover art was a painting of Farrell tied up and cut up in sweet repose. There was so much rage and grace combined in that first album, and they would establish their skill at playing both fast and hard: "Trip Away" and "Whores;" as well as sweet: "Jane Says" and "I Would for You." This release made them a hot prospect, sought after by the major record labels. They signed with Warner Brothers and published their second album Nothing's Shocking the next year. Like the first album, the album cover was more of Farrell's art: a pair of life-sized naked ladies joined at the hip and shoulder, seated in a rocking loveseat, each with their head on fire. And again, like the first album, they laid down both hard and soft tracks - "Mountain Song" is severely hard rock, while "Summertime Rolls" is about the most delicious paean to the summer season seen since Porgy and Bess. Some of the songs are longer than the first album, "Ted, Just Admit It..." is a seven minute meditation on violence in the media, and "Summertime Rolls" rolls in at six minutes. With these longer songs in the middle of the album, and a few new songs penned by the band, reoccuring themes emerged: loss, love, drug use, exuberance and frustration with ignorant society.
Their first two albums were preparation for what was to come - extremely passionate pieces. When you compare their first two albums to their third, Ritual de lo Habitual stands a more mature album, as the songs melt together better, forming an experiential whole. Along the way, fierce frenetic rhythms of ritual, tribal music, soaring electric guitar, chanting, and much cultural defiance - the band hoisting up a proudly freakish lifestyle as the best kind of everyday experience. The cover is a photograph of a life-sized sculpture by Farrell, autobiographical art: three paper mache bodies, mostly naked and intermingling, surrounded by the fixin's of Santeria, a Caribbean religion involving possession by saints. Candles, fruit, a bare metal boxspring, paper halos - it's a scene at once tawdry and saintly. The scene was enough to provoke a ban - another version of the album was released with only the text of the first amendment on the cover.
Jane's Addiction is a heady mix of sex, drugs and spirituality, and doesn't respond well to restraint. Their music is pointedly resistant to analysis as the entire spirit of their songs is celebratory and participatory - you don't read or debate, you feel and you move.
Press play, or drop the needle - a sultry woman greets you. In Spanish, she tells you that "We have more influence over your children than you do, but we love them." And she announces the band. The first song propels you into the album. There isn't any time for messing around, STOP and pay attention to what's going on here: the world's going to end, stop complaining, get away from machines and liars! The next song is as funky as the first, just a little less fast. "No One's Leaving" is an arguement for human racial equality based on greeting and common humanity. His storytelling "sister and her boyfriend slept in a park, had to leave home because he was dark" makes it resonant. It's got a point to make, but it's so damn exuberant that it never feels pedagogical. "Ain't No Right" starts with rolling, randy beats; it's Jane's Addiction at their most visceral. To sing along with this screed for self-reliance is to spew spit and have your throat sore from overuse: "Ain't no wrong now / Ain't no right / There's only pleasure and pain." They establish their own personal anarchy here, in no uncertain terms, and boy does independence party.There's a dense sculpture of politics and passion here; Ritual de lo Habitual showed that you can make something majestic that's also human. You can comandeer violins and Warner Brothers and the first amendment to put on an Art Party to say Fuck Bullshit. Perhaps fittingly, big and beautiful was a tenuous position - very soon after Ritual, during Farrell's Lollapalooza touring concert festival series, Jane's Addiction publicly decomposed and the band members went their separate ways.
Getting towards the middle of the album, "Obvious" slows things down a bit, and injects some audible piano. It's a diatribe against snooping moralists, and it's a welcome change of pace after three songs of pure exhilaration. "Been Caught Stealing" picks things back up; felonies never seemed so fun. With immediately recognizable "dog woof" sounds and jaunting, rolling rhythms, "Been Caught Stealing" is about the best time you have have with a stereo. Perry singing "it's mine" so defiantly, and the sort of "nyeh-nyeh" chorus - it's hard not to sing along to this, even if you're not so down with shoplifting.
The next song is the emotional center of the album. Beginning with words of modern ritual: "At this moment, you should be with us. / Feeling like we do, like you loved to, but never will again. / We miss you my dear Xiola... / I prepared the room tonight, with Christmas Lights. / A city of candles, ..." the song builds up the other instruments over this - as the words fade down, a questing bassline comes up, and then a soft lilting guitar. It is the start of a ten minute song - an epic, by rock standards. Musically and lyrically, "Three Days" ventures into primal territory. For the first movement, the story starts in a bedroom, a "proud man" in the midst of three days of three way lovemaking. A hopping tribal rhythm starts up, initiating a still graceful but more energetic pace. We are now discussing broader social dynamics - the dynamics of a tribe. The celebratory spirit of this movement is marked with the cry "all now with wings!" and we enter the bridge, where the bass, guitar and drums begin a slow crescendo, playing soaring music until finally the drums begin a metallic slamming urging you into the third, and most intense movement. One note on a guitar repeats over the drums, "Erotic Jesus lays with his Marys" and we are up with the band in the realm of heaven, all with wings, all charged erotic energy. There's a lull, of whispering and cooing, and then we are back into the fierce energy swirl at the center of Ritual De Lo Habitual - a massive crescendo of lovemaking, drugs, religion, tribe, ecstacy, vulnerability and transcendance. "Three Days" is the height of the band's sharing of spiritual indulgence.
"Then She Did" is another lengthy numbous numbers with "Of Course." With electric violin and accoustic fiddle, chanting and clapping, this song comes as a sort of sobering winddown from the frenzy and dense emotion of the previous two songs. "Of Course" argues for the kind of fatalism that lies at the logical heart of the band's politics; "One must eat the other who runs free before him" - all this seizing of pleasure makes for a definite food chain.
The last song, "Classic Girl," languidly celebrates the beautiful, thoughtful women that inspire the band. We've been through politics of property, equality, self determination; we've revelled in lovemaking and death, now Farrell sings, "For us, these are the days." Time to turn your radio off and make love to your woman! It's a male fantasy in that way, worshipping the woman - the album is filled with a charged reverence and use of the female.
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