Jane's Addiction Kettle Whistle (CD Review) by Jeff Apter

November 1997

Perry Farrell, well-known rock guru, alterna-lifestyle spokesman and audience agitator, has always worn his credibility like a crown. Whether fronting Jane’s Addiction or its more cosmic offspring, Porno for Pyros, establishing rock’n’roll’s very own medicine show, Lollapalooza, or speaking loud and proud about the Surfrider Foundation, Farrell has typically been as concerned with the message as the music, which only serves to heighten the mystery surrounding the current Jane’s Addiction Relapse tour and Kettle Whistle album (Warner Bros.), a cut’n’paste retrospective of material old and new – with Chili Pepper Flea standing in for Eric Avery.

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with Kettle Whistle’s 15 tracks, which piece together fresh cuts, unheard demos, live tracks and assorted esoterica. It’s masterfully remixed by Andy Wallace, the man who added extra sonic muscle to acts such as Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. And both new tracks – the title tune and “So What” – are understated surprises, locking into near-ambient grooves that are intercut with explosive bursts that are Jane’s trademark (“eargasms,” to those who remember).

Elsewhere, the brace of live tracks culled from a late 1990 Hollywood Palladium show – “Stop,” “Up the Beach,” “Ain’t No Right” and “Three Days” – pack more dramatic wallop than 90210 could ever manage. This is rock’n’roll as the ultimate release: ringmaster and crowd-taunter Farrell screaming his lungs raw, while the band reels between amp-busting fury and nervy silences.

“This show was at the beginning of everything just before the Ritual de lo Habitual record really broke,” drummer and Jane chronicler Stephen Perkins states. He should know – his personal collection includes over 500 tapes of live Jane's Addiction shows. “These versions, to me, are great because doing them live, you get the attitude and the energy from the audience.”

Of the outtakes, “Had a Dad” is just as incendiary as the live Palladium barnstormers; why it never made the Nothing’s Shocking starting line-up is a mystery that would baffle Miss Marple. And as for the rest of Kettle Whistle, the twerpy alternate take of “Been Caught Stealing” (“cool, kind of loungey” according to Perkins) is a throwaway, but an interesting one – likewise for the hitherto unheard “Maceo,” a jazz-lite stroll named either for Farrell’s cat or immortal hornman Maceo Parker. (“[It] was never really entertained as a record,” Perkins said, “and we didn’t do it live that much, so eventually we forgot about it until now.”)

From left: Dave Navarro, Flea, Stephen Perkins, Perry Farrell

So without the baggage of the band’s past, Kettle Whistle conjures enough magic to have every Jane’s acolyte lighting up in joy. After all, they’ve been in mourning since the awesome foursome split up abruptly, after Ritual went ballistic. (Bootleggers may not be so chipper, but such is their lot.)

In fact, the music’s great – it’s emphatic, dynamic and theatrical. But what concerns me is that its very existence contradicts everything Jane’s Addiction stood for: street cred, artistic relevance, a refusal to trade integrity for the filthy lucre. Then why do it? I guess it has much to do with the mixed post-Jane’s careers of band members – especially Farrell and Navarro.

Farrell’s loose-knit combo Porno for Pyros (including tub-thumper Perkins) has crafted a couple of curious records, but have never burned with the intensity of his first platinum-selling ensemble. Nor have they scored the same high public rating as Jane’s Addiction, who were to the late 80s what X was to the early 80s – LA’s best band. And while stringman Navarro clearly thought joining the Chili Peppers was a solid career move, the title of 1995’s One Hot Minute proved way too accurate. It was a limp wave when compared to the emphatic middle-finger salute of the Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Yet fame and glory are seductive, dangerous mistresses. It’s possible that the lure of another major hit – and the serious dollars that they’ve undoubtedly snagged for their current tour – were enough to make three of the four original Jane’s kiss, make up and rock out once more. Yet Navarro has stated loudly, firmly (and unconvincingly): “None of us are hungry. We’re not doing this for the cash.”

Or maybe their decision was prompted by the current deficit of genuinely interesting, stone-cold-serious rock acts on the planet. Given Jane’s Addiction’s place as alterna-rock icons and groundbreakers for a brace of platinum-plus bands, possibly the firm of Farrell, Navarro, Perkins and Flea feel they deserve some latitude. Fair enough. They were “alternative” when the word really meant “interesting and not likely to be heard on the radio,” unlike today when the only difference between “alternative” and “mainstream” is the spelling.

Navarro has insisted that after the Relapse dates, the current four Janes are heading back to their previous day jobs. Maybe that’s the best way to view Kettle Whistle and the Relapse tour – as a fleeting, farewell gasp in Jane’s Addiction’s history, a final signing-off of one of rock’s innovative and influential bands.

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