I must confess that, when I learned Warner Brothers Records was reissuing Jane’s Addiction’s third full-length album as part of their Rocktober promotion last year, I got really, really excited. In fact, excitement barely even begins to qualify the wealth of sensations that I felt when I heard about it; the number of memories that I have associated with Ritual de lo Habitual is enormous. Not only that but, because I’ve been a fan of the band in general and this album in specific for so long, I feel like I’m intimately aware of the logistical nightmare that the album has proven to be, since its’ original release. I’m aware, for example, that Ritual was released on vinyl, cassette and CD originally (vinyl was released with both the original cover as well as a “clean” cover in 1989, which featured a reprint of the First Amendment of the US Constitution – in response to some retail chains refusing to carry the album due to the explicit content depicted on the cover. CD and cassette versions of the album followed in 1990), but the cassettes sounded pretty poor (as cassettes do), and the sequencing of the track list on the album made it a bit of an awkward play; because of the length of some of the songs on the album and the sequence in which they appeared, the grooves were often crowded too close together – which didn’t make for the smoothest playing. This also made for some strange decisions when it came to pressing singles; somehow, “Three Days” (which is ten minutes and forty-five seconds in length) because a 7” single and saw the song split in two – with half appearing on each side. There was also a 12” single pressed which featured “Stop” and the low-key ballad “I Would For You” on one side, and “Three Days” on the other in its entirety. The album remained largely a single LP release (due in no small part to the decline in popularity of vinyl as a format) for several years, but was eventually pressed as a 2LP set for U.S. release in 2009 which quickly went out of print before reappearing again in a box set which collected Ritual with Nothing’s Shocking, excerpts from Kettle Whistle and a 1990 concert at the L.A. Palladium in 1990 for the Silver Spoon box.
Needless to say, Ritual de lo Habitual has had a complicated history, but it is one of my favorite albums of all time so I was genuinely interested to see how it would be treated on vinyl, in the twenty-first century. As it would turn out, the new, 2LP pressing features none of the problems with cut crowding which some of the older pressings did and, while it doesn’t sound like the mixes have been changed at all (more on that later), they come through brightly and beautifully this time.
…And, as Cindy Lair begins her Spanish soliloquy which opens “Stop,” longtime fans of both the band and this album will be able to feel their pulses start speeding up. The minor seventh chords of the opening riff supercharge the minds of those who hear them and get their energy up beautifully; so much so that when the rhythm changes, the explosion which comes with the change almost manifests physically – there is indeed an actual push which comes with it, and those of the right mine are liars if they say that they don’t feel it.
The instrumentation is impressive certainly, but then there are the lyrics in “Stop.” It has often been pointed out that singer Perry Farrell writes his lyrics by the paragraph – not by the line – and the difference in form and design is perfectly self-evident in “Stop”; there is no meter about the lyrical delivery, no discernible structure, no rhyme – nothing in form or structure which is normally observed as being lyrical or “song-like” – it just explodes, presents and then recedes. Critics could easily criticize the delivery of “Stop” from a theoretical standpoint, but no one with ears can deny that the song is a spectacular opening event, whether it follows songwriting conventions or not.
After the explosion of “Stop,” Jane’s Addiction immediately shifts gears for “No One Is Leaving” and accentuates the sharper corners which can be found in Jane’s Addiction’s sound without getting more metallic in their delivery. Rather, the form of “No One Is Leaving” somehow more closely resembles funk and hip hop after having been digested by a rock band; the song opens with some syncopated bass which sounds like a cleaner form of what Flea might come up with to fill out the song (this is the sound of bass played with a pick versus bass played with one’s fingers) before charging into a solid enough rave-up that listeners will find themselves hooked. The lyrics stay light through the song, and listeners will have no trouble falling into that lighthearted rhythm – particularly when the energy steps up to that all-important next level during the solo break, which is punctuated by a sharp exhale from Farrell in the final second of the song’s running. The energy which powers the song is absolutely incredible and totally unrelenting; so much so that those listeners who glance at the song’s chronometer will be shocked to learn that “No One Is Leaving” is just two minutes and fifty-six seconds long.
After the “blast-first” aesthetic of “No One Is Leaving,” Jane’s actually INCREASES their focus and power for “Ain’t No Right.” There, after the song’s rhythm is set courtesy of a speedy, stringy bass performance from Eric Avery, Farrell chirps up with a singsong vocal which seems intended to provoke listeners, followed quickly by the closest to a punk rock performance from drummer Stephen Perkins (who’s predisposition to producing spectacular poly-rhythms causes his drum performance to feel that much faster here) and the most out-and-out aggressive tone that guitarist Dave Navarro would ever produce for Jane’s Addiction’s first run together. The results are a perfect storm in that, while no one is exactly playing to their established strengths here (Farrell is normally at his best in the alt-rock climes that Jane’s would help to popularize – not on the more confrontational field of hardcore, same with Avery – and Navarro normally shines brightest producing textures which lean more on classic rock than punk while Perkins is always better, the busier he is), the power of “Ain’t No Right” is second to none. When the needle lifts after just three cuts, listeners will find themselves actively blinking to re-moisturize their eyes; while the A-side of Ritual de lo Habitual clocks in at just over ten minutes, the experience is fantastic and feels incredibly full.
At just two cuts (about nine and a half minutes) in length, there’s no denying that the B-side of the 2LP reissue of Ritual de lo Habitual feels sparsely populated (it looks that way too – but more on the logistical reasons why this vinyl reissue needed to be laid out the way it is across 2LP records later), but when one considers that one of the two songs on this side is regarded as the greatest in the band’s canon, it gets increasingly easy to forgive. The side opens with the synth-touched “Obvious” which makes it very, very easy to re-embark on the album’s rhythm (although it is far from the more punk-informed cuts which populate the album’s A-side) as it earnestly pushes its way along. Here, the song gradually fades in with a comfortable and easy rhythm figure set by Avery and Perkins, and builds to its first plateau as Farrell steps to the mic – simultaneously offering a build-up (the vocal tone in general) and a frustrated complaint against those who assume their superiority to the band (“Hey, you don’t know me!/ You don’t know me, but you just keep on looking at me down low/ Oh no!”). The results are exhilarating; the vibes which radiate off the song are decidedly very uplifting – and contrasted perfectly by the sense of paranoia which accompanies lines like “You’re digging something up…/ Always digging something up…/ Oh no!” [which actually sounds more like “On low” –ed]. It’s ironic to this day that the song which plays best with the understated elements on Ritual de lo Habitual is the one called “Obvious,” which makes the song a prime example of just how subversive Jane’s Addiction was capable of being.
…And then, following “Obvious,” Jane’s Addiction delivers the single best-known (and arguably highest regarded) cut in their songbook: “Been Caught Stealing.”
To this day, now thirty years later, “Been Caught Stealing” sounds and feels timeless. Pop may change, rock conventions may change or be re-thought too – but “Been Caught Stealing” will always sound great because, as much as it might be about vice and impure things (a song glorifying theft, made by a band which was notorious for its drug appetite), there is an innocence about it which is perfect. It’s playful; the bass is simple but fun, the drums are flat-out jubilant and the guitar performance almost sounds like a cartoon score (seriously – the way those ninth chords ring together for the reoccurring riff which opens the song sounds like the instrument is saying, “Uh oh!”) – it’s perfect. There is an innocent and childlike quality which just revels in mischief – Farrell’s lyric sheet on top typifies that too – it’s like hearing Peter Pan in front of a rock band; forever young and mischievous, with a perfect hook. The B-side of this reissue only features two cuts and “Been Caught Stealing” is the second – but it will always have have listeners rushing to their turntables to switch plates for more. “Been Caught Stealing” is, very simply, a perfect song made better by the imperfections in which it revels.
As light as “Been Caught Stealing” continues to play, it’s almost perfect that the cut which follows it – the first (of two) on the C-side of Ritual de lo Habitual and the REASON why this album needs to be a double LP (although Warner did try to work around it at one point and split the song in half for a different release which reappeared on the band’s excellent Live and Rare comp) is “Three Days” – the most epic song in Jane’s Addiction’s songbook, the inspiration for the album’s cover artwork and the most logistically complicated song on the album.
Now, in the age when power ballads like “Don’t Cry,” “November Rain,” “More Than Words,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “Wind Of Change” were standard issue on rock records (in fact, some were regarded as the standout songs ON those records), “Three Days” still stands out from the pack because, while love is still the central theme of the song, the focus is more on the artifice of the subject – more figurative and less literal – which makes for a very different kind of listen.
Like so many tragedies, “Three Days” begins slowly and builds through its’ running. First, Perry Farrell sets the scene with some spoken word which easily plays on listeners’ heartstrings, before Eric Avery’s bass joins, followed by Perkins and Navarro. Images of cities of candles and gothic romance are tempered by drug use, but the song never gets really literal; lines like “Three days was the morning/ My focus three days old/ My head – it landed to the sound of cricket bows” paint images of love and danger, as well as the disconnect which comes with hard drug use – but the artful language keeps the song from growing too poignant. As it progresses, the build in tempo and instrumentation becomes spectacular as the mathy pattern of Avery’s bass locks into a new rhythm before exploding into hard single notes and Farrell screams (at around the 09:19 mark) to spur the song to a fever pitch before cresting and then receding into the shadows. It is spectacular – and nothing is quite as it was after “Three Days” ends; listeners will be left glowing from the exertion, and will find they have to re-evaluate their approach to the music which follows the song in this runtime. After that, the progression remains surreal as “Then She Did” recounts the suicide of Perry Farrell’s mother (although, to put none too fine a point on it, this critic didn’t realize that such was the song’s subject matter until listening to this reissue inspired the epiphany) but that it bears a fraction of its predecessor’s impact does the song an incredible disservice. It’s good, but it’s doomed to live in the shadow of “Three Days” – particularly given that those are the only two songs on the album’s C-side.
Similar to the C-side post- “Three Days,” the D-side of the album has a little bit of difficulty getting legs under it as Avery steps back from the bass position for “Of Course” (it’s filled by session player Ronnie Champagne) and the presence of violin causes a folkier impression to overtake the song. “Of Course” is not BAD per se, the problem is that it pales in comparison to those turns that the album took prior to that point in the runtime. A similar complaint or argument against “Classic Girl” could be made, but the resolution that it offers listeners – with unadulterated love and affection for the song’s namesake subject and the sweetness with which it is treated (a warm, affectionate vocal melody, gentle and occasionally ethereal guitars through the verses and surf-y passages through the bridge) is the perfect final fireworks display for this album. Granted, it’s not exactly what listeners who are unfamiliar with the album expect (a barn-burning and explosive close is almost expected, somehow), but the change that they get in “Classic Girl” is a welcome one, especially as Perry Farrell wishes listeners goodnight when the song closes and the needle lifts.
Standing back from it and taking this reissue as a whole, I can absolutely, positively say that fans who buy this Rocktober reissue of Ritual de lo Habitual will treasure it, dearly. Over the years, there have been several different pressings which each tried to cut one corner or another and, each time, those reissues have seen interest evaporate because the album was simply not presented correctly. That is not a problem at all this time; the original cover art is in place, the graphics are clear, sharp and beautiful, the vinyl (pressed on two 12” platters of translucent, pearl-white vinyl) is well-pressed and does not attempt to crowd cuts in hopes of condensing a 2LP set down to one and the sound quality is fantastic. After so many years and so many bum attempts, THIS is the edition of Ritual de lo Habitual to have on vinyl, without question. [Bill Adams]
The Rocktober reissue of Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane’s Addiction is out now. Buy it here, directly from Rhino records.