All of which brings us to Jane's Addiction, back in the music-biz fray with Strays, the group's first album of new material since 1990's Ritual De Lo Habitual. In the dark ages of LA hair metal (1986-1991), Jane's Addiction stood apart from the Aquanet-and-spandex Sunset-Strip drones. Led by Perry Farrell -- a polyamorous, shamanistic walking stick of a man whose nasal incantations soared over a blend of Zeppelinesque riffs and multirhythmic percussion -- Jane's Addiction was the sound of the freak underground, less a band than a Dionysian tribe complete with maenads and worshippers. Having tired of themselves and each other, the members parted ways in the early '90s and were met with some commercial, but little artistic, success. They reunited for the Relapse tour in 1997, motives unknown, but have remained mostly dormant until now.
Strays presents a challenge for the band: How to write Jane's Addiction music when the members are no longer surf urchins and street preachers but instead established stars, with Hollywood homes and supermodel girlfriends? The band's solution, apparently, is to stop pretending they're still twenty-year-old lunatics and just focus on writing good songs; this approach works well, for the most part. "Hypersonic" showcases drummer Stephen Perkins' frantic tribal-octopus stomp. Dave Navarro proves himself once again to be a guitar god, slashing and burning his riffs all over the album. The lyrics avoid the junkies and hookers of the past, but "Price I Pay" has a confessional cast: "I always do the wrong thing," Farrell sings repeatedly, "but I got a good reason." A few tracks, such as "Wrong Girl" and "Suffersome," seem like limp funk workouts, but they don't drag the album down too much.
Farrell and his compatriots are no longer innovators, if for no other reason than that the sound they pioneered is now completely mainstream. Still, Jane's Addiction sounds better than most of what passes for rock these days. Though the band might lack the magic and power it once had, a good Jane's Addiction album is always welcome. Solid, mature but still fun, Strays proves that second comings don't always have to suck.