Saturday, July 18, 2009

Overlooked Classics: "Good God's Urge"

Sometimes, when exposed to something at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right set of circumstances, one becomes connected to that thing, no matter how your rational mind may tell you otherwise, and no matter how incorrect it may seem with the rest of your life, there are things that we love, for which we can offer little to no excuse. We like them. And there's nothing wrong with that.

One of the benefits to this blind appreciation (I won't call it devotion, as there ARE limits to an otherwise sane person), is that one can then find elements of excellence that others would have overlooked, not being willing to devote the time or energy that someone who was more inclined to enjoy it would. And that's where I stand on Porno For Pyros.

Jane's Addiction was one of those things for me. So, just as I'll buy anything that has "The Stooges" printed on it, I'm inclined to check out anything "Jane's Related", from bootlegs to side projects. Some of these are excellent (the post-JA Deconstruction album), and some are unspeakably awful (*cough* the Chili Peppers' One Hot Minute *cough*). But some of them are not only worthy of your time, they're better than they deserve to be. Jane's worked because of the balance between members. Without guitarist Dave Navarro, leader/vocalist Perry Farrell got too artsy and freaky and self-indulgent, and without Farrell, Navarro would mire down in a sea of hackneyed metal cliche, for instance.

So upon the breakup of Jane's Addiciton, Perry Farrell started Porno For Pyros, and no Navarro or bassist Eric Avery meant it was going to be far more wigged out and pretentious than he has any right to make (*ahem* Satellite Party...), right?

Nope. Porno For Pyros' self-titled first album has its moments, but it's by and large a tight, rocking band that strays into the oddball at times, but is ultimately pretty satisfying. Guitarist Peter DiStefano was a lot more textural than Navarro, the band was by-and-large less aggressive, it was a nice soundtrack for the early 90s: intellectual, artistic, hooky, bohemian. This was a time when Dee-Lite's "Groove Is In The Heart" was ruling the charts. People were ready for freaky boho rock. Grunge had cracked the listening public right open and the world was ready to hear anything.

By 1996, however, their second album sank like a lead-lined rock.

1996, buddy! Korn was happening! 311! Tool! Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was like quadruple-platinum! Alanis went huge and Metallica went alternative. The Fugees, No Doubt, and Rage Against The Machine all had number one records in 1996. You expect me to listen to your understated album full of acoustic guitars and tropical percussion? Freaky hippie stuff with soundscaping?

Well, yeah.

"Tahitian Moon" starts out with a crazy noise guitar and cuts loose into the sound of laying on a beach under the stars. Otherwise icky hippie hand drums and trippy songwriting is obscured with enough haze to make it absolutely delightful. I once spent a week canoeing to this album, and it somehow fits the outdoors, near the water. "Kimberley Austin", in particular, reminds me of a song that's been barely written, but caught on record in that magical period between songwriting and arranging, when something can sound fresh and spare at the same time. Could it, as a song, have benefited from a little more fine-tuning? Yep. No doubt about it. But the freshness of it completely overrides it - any more and it would be overcooked. I think that sums up this whole album, in fact. Despite the layers of overdubs on everyone's part, this album is absolutely a perfect example of being laid back.

The players, as well, deserve some credit here. Guitarist DiStefano is quite possibly more inventive than Navarro (who guests here) in a sonic way, and Mike Watt, possibly the greatest bassist in the past three decades, lays WAY back on the tracks he features on, avoiding his Minutemen-style bean jumping, preferring to slide into notes and let the lines breathe. Stephen Perkins brings the most intricate and well-placed percussion of his career to the table, and to Perry Farrell's credit, he keeps his ego in check, almost always coming across as just one of the group, never dominating the proceedings.

Good God's Urge had the misfortune of being released in one of the worst possible musical climates for what it is, and due to that, was largely overlooked, even by former Jane's Addiction fans. In this post-millenial musical world, the disc has enough variety for the iPod Shuffle generation, but stands as a remarkably solid piece of work as a whole.

In short, it's absolutely worth the $.99 it would cost you to pick it up out of any used CD bin in America. I love this country.

1 comment:

  1. I have never been a Jane's Addiction fan. Didn't dislike them, but never felt the urge to check them out to any substantial degree. As such, I probably wasn't the target market for this, but I REALLY did. Pastoral without being dull, arty without being (too) pretentious. Farrell's voice, which never quite worked for me in the Jane's stuff, fits in much better in these surroundings. Great record, thanks for the suggestion.