How Jane’s Addiction Challenged the Status Quo With ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’
Jane’s Addiction were a mass of contradictions: a group that exulted in their power to challenge musical mores, provoke conservative sensibilities, and even befuddle their own audience if it meant delivering revolutionary art under the guise of commercially viable music.
And that's just what they did with Ritual de lo Habitual. Released on Aug. 21, 1990, the album boasted a tongue-in-cheek title that encouraged the notion of a typical musical experience. Jane's Addiction then categorically shattered any such expectations with a slew of genre-defying songs that were embraced by a new breed of listener – soon to be labeled “Generation X” – who were ready for a radical change in America’s stagnant and exceedingly corporate late ‘80s music scene.
Boasting a heightened public profile, courtesy of a surprise Grammy nomination for their sophomore releases Nothing’s Shocking, Jane’s Addiction joined a group of pre-Nirvana agitators like Faith No More, Soundgarden and the Red Hot Chili Peppers who were eager to shake things up in 1990. That meant upping the ante, rather than capitalizing by playing it safe or simply repeating themselves.
Jane's Addiction started by selecting a striking cover image for Ritual de lo Habitual. Created by frontman Perry Farrell, the artwork was promptly banned by America’s big box retail chains, requiring a plain white replacement. Even then, the band added a caustic message: "Hitler's syphilis-ridden dreams almost came true. How could it happen? By taking control of the media. An entire country was led by a lunatic. We must protect our First Amendment, before sick dreams become law. Nobody made fun of Hitler??!"
Next, once the needle hit the groove, came a simultaneously sultry and unnerving female voice narrating a message that Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins clearly intended to strike fear into the the hearts of parents everywhere: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have more influence with your children than you do – but we love them."
Then, at last, came the music. On the first half of Ritual de lo Habitual, Jane’s Addiction offered an elastic brand of frantic, funky anti-metal (all except for the brooding “Obvious”), book-ended by the twin hit singles “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing.” Both of the latter were featured in hit MTV videos. Side two, in another twist, found Jane's Addiction swapping radio-friendly brevity for mesmerizing epics like the stunning “Three Days,” mournful “Then She Did…” and Eastern-flavored “Of Course.” Each waxed and waned over multiple passages, with always startling results.
Through it all, Farrell wove in highly imaginative lyrics. They were at times eccentric, at times hilarious, at times deeply moving, yet always intensely personal. For example, “Then She Did” told of his mother’s suicide when Perry was just four years of age. That, in itself, guaranteed a refreshing alternative to so much of the era’s still-prevalent superficial party rock.
But Ritual de lo Habitual was different in every way, a finely crafted audio/visual catalyst that helped sow the seeds for alternative rock’s imminent rise. Its scale of ambition remains unlike most any other album of the era. Alas, Jane’s Addiction initially chose to break up, rather than try and follow it up – further cementing the legend of Ritual de lo Habitual.
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