Here’s one way to cure fan addiction: Make ‘em wait eight years between releases, then return with an album as competent and forgettable as “The Great Escape Artist,” the long-in-coming latest from Jane’s Addiction.
The most remarkable thing about the band’s very belated fourth effort is how much, in songs like “Hit You Back,” they sound like second-tier U2 -- a comparison that wouldn’t have come up back in the group’s more ferocious ‘90s heyday.
Perry Farrell has toned down his formerly banshee-esque wailing for a more measured kind of pleading, and there are moments, especially in “Twisted Tales,” where he’s a dead ringer for Bono. Make no mistake, there are far worse rock & roll contemporaries to suddenly resemble as you’re trying to gracefully age into your early 50s.
But Dave Navarro is also emphasizing anthemic, Edge-style guitar lines over his former explosiveness. And with producer Rich Costey (who previously helped Muse sound like U2) giving the group a full-on Eno-ization, with hazy, reverb-drenched electronic enhancements, something’s missing. It’s not just bass player Eric Avery, though it’s regrettable that his always memorable bass lines have been replaced by serviceable work from studio guest Dave Sitek, of TV on the Radio fame.
“Escape Artist” is hardly a complete write-off. The set gets off to a promising start with its best and most thunderous track, “Underground,” where Navarro sounds like he’s been listening to the Edge and Jimmy Page (maybe influenced by a screening of “It Might Get Loud”?). “I’ll never give up the underground,” Farrell keeps repeating, sounding like a man who doth protest too much... though his equally emphatic “I’m a hustler!” admonitions suggest a certain degree of self-knowledge.
The Jane’s gang again manages to escape the ghetto of perpetual moodiness and murk with the closer, “Words Right Out of My Mouth,” which bookends the album with a turn-back-the-clock punk double-time climax. Sure, the song bears a silly spoken-word introduction that has Farrell talking to his therapist, setting up paranoid lyrics about “birds up in the trees!” that want to swoop down and eat his speech. But at least it ends the album with some adrenalin and (possibly intentional) humor.
What comes between those two highlights isn’t all that bad for a band entering its third decade, when surviving rock groups typically sound a lot more tired than these guys. Of course, that’s the needle-half-full angle on things.
However aficionados feel (and that’ll surely be mixed), newcomers aren’t likely to get hooked on anything in this eight-years-in-the-waiting effort. And the inability to make a compelling case to fresh fans is a pickle even Houdini would have a hard time squeezing out of.