- Buy the CD
Reviewed by James B. Eldred
The core of the group is Farrell and Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt (if you’ve ever heard some of that man’s wacked out solo stuff, the pairing doesn’t sound that out there). But joining them is a virtual smorgasbord of vaguely recognizable names, including Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante and Flea, Peter DiStefano (Porno for Pyros), Peter Hook (New Order) and drummer Jack Irons (Pearl Jam/Soundgarden). Hip Hop’s reigning ugly untalented whore, Fergie, also contributes backing vocals to a few tracks, along with Perry’s wife Etty Lau Farrell. Rounding things out are electronic groups Thievery Corporation and Hybrid (assumingly in the form of beeps and boops).
Ultra Payload is a (very loose) concept album about a group of protestors under attack by an evil fascist government regime before they are transported to the mystical Ultra Payload Satellite Party and reborn with the energy to fight the evil forces that are causing global warming and the melting of the polar icecaps…or something.
At first, this dreamlike orgy of alt-rock superstars and political idealism (and Fergie) seems to pay off with some of the most energetic and exciting music Farrell’s made in years. Tracks like “Wish Upon a Dog Star” and “Celebrate” are groovalicious jams that may not bring back memories of the heyday of Jane’s Addiction, but they will definitely help wash away the memories of their failed reunion CD (and Farrell’s last musical release), 2003’s Strays.
The heavenly groove continues for a few more songs, culminating in the wonderfully sleazy “Kinky.” But once Farrell blows his load in this sexy ode to funky loving, it seems that he doesn’t know where to go next. “Awesome” is a droll love song featuring the most annoying one-word chorus of all time, and “Mr. Sunshine” sounds like it had potential before someone took it to the generic ambient techno music workshop and filled it with a randomly inserted string section and piano solo.
Farrell and his merry group of environmentally-friendly rockers get a second wind with “Insanity Rules,” a suitably fast-paced tune about government oppressors stomping out an environmental protest. It is kind of strange that the one song on the album written from the perspective of the story’s villains has the greatest chance of becoming a sing-a-long hit -- the line “We are drunk with power!” just screams to be shouted out en masse at this year’s Lollapalooza.
Just when it seems things are getting back on track it all goes to hell again, with the instantly forgettable “Milky Ave” and “Ultra Payload Satellite Party” destroying any of the momentum that “Insanity Rules” may have restored from the mid-album slump. Most embarrassing is the final track, “Woman in the Window,” which features a previously unused Jim Morrison vocal track. Hey Perry…it was unused for a reason.
At times both boring as hell and incredibly exhilarating, Ultra Payload might just be the most frustrating album of the year. Download the good half, but skip the rest.