CD Review of A Cabinet of Curiosities by Jane’s Addiction
Jane’s Addiction: A Cabinet of Curiosities
Recommended if you like
Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden
Label
Rhino
Jane’s Addiction:
A Cabinet of Curiosities

Reviewed by Ed Murray

T
he last time Jane's Addiction – singer/art-damaged frontman Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro (yeah, the reality TV star and Carmen Elektra's ex-husband; he did a stint in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, too), drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery – shared a stage with Nine Inch Nails, it was 1991 and the first Lollapalooza festival was making its way around the country. NIN was just getting started, really (Pretty Hate Machine was released in late '89), but Jane's was winding down. Lollapalooza I was actually conceived and created as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction 1.0. This spring, the two bands will share the stage again for the first time since then, as Jane's joins NIN for the first leg of Reznor & Co.'s spring-summer tour.

The salient feature of this most recent Jane's Addiction reunion – unlike the one before, or the one before that – is that it finally brings together the original quartet. Prior to their appearance at the NME Awards USA in the spring of 2008 (on hand to pick up the hyperbolically named Godlike Genius Award), bassist Avery hadn't played with his old bandmates since 1991.

All of which is justification enough for the release of A Cabinet of Curiosities, a lavishly produced four-CD box set of mostly unreleased demos, live material and video. Following the recent dying-medium trend of making box sets objets d'art and not just well-produced collections of music-plus-extensive-booklet, Perry Farrell & Co. deliver the collector's goods here. The set is packaged in a wooden cabinet with a metal clasp that opens, shrine-like, to reveal the contents, which include tarot cards, little voodoo dolls (playing up the band's Ritual de lo Habitual's Santeria trappings) and thick booklet – a detailed band bio with sidebar testimonials from the likes of Slash, Flea, Billy Corgan and others – in addition to the four individually digi-pak'ed discs.

Once you get past the collector's item bric-a-brac (easily done, quite frankly), it's only the music that matters, though, and on that front A Cabinet of Curiosities is a mixed bag.

Jane's Addiction

The first two CDs offer mostly rarities (demos, live recordings, cover tunes) from the band's peak 1986-91 era, most of it unreleased material. In fact, out of 43 total songs across all three of the CDs, 30 are previously unreleased tracks (plus three more on the DVD). That's pretty darn archival, actually, and it's doubtful there's any more of this kind of material to release.

The most revelatory thing about the demos is their decidedly finished nature: you'll find no embryonic songwriting wireframes here. On the contrary, the differences are primarily sonic: the album versions feature stronger mixes (and more confident vocals), but otherwise the arrangements (and playing) are nearly identical in all cases. And because of that, hearing them only makes you want to hear the finished product. It also highlights how ready-for-prime-time Jane's Addiction was, despite the underground punk-metal alternative vibe they gave off, especially on their self-titled live debut. The fact that they pulled this off even on early, supposedly "raw" versions of such intricate numbers as "Three Days" highlights their consummate professionalism (all the more surprising given the band's alleged tendencies toward heroin and meth-fueled bacchanalia), but doesn't offer much in the way of fan-boy fascination.

In addition to the demos, Disc Two offers a bunch of covers, some silly (the Bauhaus-Dylan fusion of "Bobhaus"), some stout (the live versions of Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and the Stooges "1970"), some sublime (their art-punk-hippy-dippy reading of the Grateful Dead's "Ripple").

The third disc is a live recording of a full show from 1990 (recorded at the Hollywood Palladium that December) – and it's the best thing about the whole box set, quite frankly. It really captures the band at their peak, and does a decent job of capturing the shamanic power and sonic glory the band was capable of in concert.

The fourth disc is the requisite DVD, an assortment of various video clips, including the previously released 1989 short film Soul Kiss (produced by Farrell's then-girlfriend Casey Niccoli), all of the band's official MTV-era music videos ("Stop!," "Been Caught Stealing," "Had a Dad," etc.) and three previously unreleased live video tracks recorded for MTV Italy in Milan in 1990. Diehards will bemoan the absence of the 1993 Farrell-Niccoli film The Gift – whose Wikipedia entry even mentions its scheduled inclusion as part of this box set – but given its neo-fictional nature, leaving it off was probably the right call.

Like most box sets – especially the rarity-focused collections, rather than the greatest hits assemblages – A Cabinet of Curiosities is definitely geared toward the diehard fan more than the casual listener or the newly converted (or those for whom this spring's NIN|JA tour will be their first real exposure to Jane's Addiction), all of whom would be better served by 2006's Up From the Catacombs best-of set (or even 1997's rarities disc Kettle Whistle). Otherwise, cash in now, honey.

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