For their second major-label release, Ritual de lo Habitual, Jane’s Addiction, a band wildly popular in Los Angeles, has made an album about a striking subject, menage a trois. And without a single explicit sexual reference. Instead, the lyrics — along with the music, and background notes by Perry Farrell, the band’s singer and guiding spirit — testify to something far more unexpected: a deep and apparently abiding love between Farrell, his girlfriend, and another woman, now dead. The album cover was supposed to show the three half-naked in bed, depicted in a somber folk-art construction by Farrell, a piece far more stylized than erotic that would raise no eyebrows in a gallery. But the record company thought retailers might refuse to carry the album and printed only a few copies of that cover. In its place, Farrell designed one with a defiant challenge to censorship: the text of the First Amendment.
Only one line in the album’s lyrics might generate controversy — an ecstatic reference in ”Three Days” (the song most specifically about the love affair) to ”erotic Jesus” and ”his Marys.” It’s the poetic rapture that’s most significant here, though, not any hint of blasphemy. The song continues: ”Bits of puzzle, fitting each other. All now with wings!” Other songs call with equal passion for honesty in the face of all obstacles. They can be thoughtful and often gritty — ”Bumped my head,” Farrell sings in ”Ain’t No Right,” ”Goddamn took the pain” — but often they spiral into delirious repetition, as in ”No One’s Leaving”: ”Wish I knew everyone’s nickname…Wish we all waved…All waved…All waved…”
The music takes getting used to. It’s far more unorthodox than anything on the group’s first major-label album (1988’s Nothing’s Shocking). The songs come in great crashing waves, barely stopping for niceties like shapely melody or coherently changing chords. Toward the end, the waves slow down and the songs grow more tender, but it takes time to sort out their elements. The effect, sometimes, is as if careening speed metal had mated with rhapsodic mysticism, spinning off drunken bass lines, spiraling violins, even (in ”Of Course”) the sway of a bumpy waltz. The trick for a confused listener would be to fasten onto details like these, which can serve as musical buoys in an ocean of sound. Eventually the music starts to make sense, and Farrell’s emotion ends up touching your heart. A-