Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual
A massively ambitious, impressionistic, and joyous celebration of vice
To listen to it now, it's hard to recall just how unconventional Ritual de lo Habitual sounded at the time of its release. In 1990 — coincidentally, the same year that Wilson Phillips sold 10 million albums — Jane's Addiction's distillation of punk, funk, metal, prog and psychedelia seemed positively rebellious, floating in a sea of big hair metal and bloodless pop. It would be too simplistic to label Ritual de lo Habitual a sex, drugs and rock and roll album, although it is an unashamed celebration of those vices, as well as a host of others. But Perry Farrell's lyrics have always been too ambitious to be summed up in clichés, and on Jane's Addiction's third and final album, the band's intentions are at their most outsized.
The result is that Ritual de lo Habitual is a big album, and grandiosity is as much a theme as the lofty ideals expressed by Farrell. "Stop!", the opener, is all muscular metal riffs, chugging bass, squealing guitar solos (remember when Dave Navarro was more famous for knowing his way around fretboards than B-movie actresses?) and reverb-drenched entreaties to stop mucking up the planet; "Ain't No Right" pairs soaring jet engines with slap bass, rolling drums, and Farrell's nihilistic refrain: "Ain't no wrong, now / Ain't no right / There's only pleasure and pain." "Obvious" and "No One's Leaving" are both solid rock songs, the former in defense of outsiders and the latter promoting racial equality. And "Been Caught Stealing" — which doesn't glorify shoplifting so much as turn it into a justifiable hobby — is, famously, the track that helped both Jane's Addiction and alternative music itself move from cult to mainstream.
Things abruptly shift gears here; Ritual de lo Habitual is an album in two acts, and the last four tracks are long and meditative contrasts to the frenetic first half. "Three Days" — an ode to a friend of Farrell's who died of an overdose and the story of a ménage à trois they once shared — is nearly 11 minutes long, beginning as an eerily quiet, spectral ballad and winding its way into a sprawling epic of tribal drumming, psychedelic guitar noise and driving basslines. Wholly bereft of restraint, self-aggrandizing, and very nearly self-indulgent, it may be the best song the band ever recorded. "Then She Did…" about Farrell's mother, who committed suicide when he was three, is a watercolor, filled with soft sighs and dreamy guitars; "Classic Girl," a wash of trembling chords and tremulous vocals; and "Of Course," filled with buoyant klezmer rhythms and Farrell comparing the rat race to a cruel children's game.
It's important to note that Jane's Addiction called it quits at the tail end of a tour to support Ritual; with that in mind, the songs seem like a snapshot of a band at the moment right before implosion. Although all four members would continue to create music with others, and even each other, Ritual showcases Jane's Addiction at their artistic pinnacle; a record of the period just before any of us knew anything about traveling music fairs, watered-down grunge or hedonism as marketing strategy.