90 For The 90s
Updated: Apr 8
The blog series created by Rob Janicke that discusses a bunch of albums from the 90s for you to argue with him about
Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual (released on 8/21/90, Warner Bros. Records)
("Clean" version of the album cover)
Welcome to Generation Riff's "90 For The 90s" series. Along with an accompanying video on social media, I will be discussing my list of the 90 greatest albums of the 1990s. Why do this, you ask? Good question...
As we know, lists (especially about music) are quite subjective and I have no chance of pleasing everyone who will follow this series. I know some will agree with certain albums, some will yell at me for leaving certain ones off, and others will debate with me about my take on many of the records throughout the series. All of that is perfectly alright with me. I love talking about this stuff and I'm very interested in the feedback I know will come my way.
This idea was born when a good friend of mine recently asked me to compile my Top 50 alternative, grunge, and hip-hop albums of the 90s for a playlist project he was involved in. Once I made my list (it wound up being over 60 albums) I realized I still listen to many of these records even though more than 30 years have passed since I first heard many of them and I wanted to dive deeper into each one.
I thought it would be fun to list my 90 "greatest" albums of the 90s for Generation Riff and for quick video clips on social media to hopefully drum up some passionate discussion about them. I put quotations around "greatest" because there is no scientific method here. I chose albums that were important culturally, commercially, sonically, and honestly, just a bunch of records I love.
Revisiting these albums for my friend's playlist, this new Generation Riff series, and of course for my forthcoming book, SLACKER - 1991, Teen Spirit Angst, and the Generation It Created (Inspired By You Books 2023) has brought back some incredibly fond memories and I hope it will do the same for you.
Since I wasn't going to attempt to rank these albums numerically because...how? I decided to take a chronological, year-by-year approach. Not only is this easier for me but it demonstrates just how insanely prolific that decade was in terms of releasing great, inventive, unique, and in many cases, iconic albums that will be played for decades and decades to come.
As we know, the 90s has gone down in history as the decade of grunge and alternative rock. Yes, there were other very popular genres such as country, hip-hop, punk, and others but all of those styles had their initial "heyday" prior to 1990. Most people, when talking about 90s music usually speak in terms of grunge and alternative rock. Nirvana is probably the band most associated with the decade when discussing rock music but they didn't fall out of the sky without warning. Many factors were at play to make Nirvana's impact as big as it was and the first album on my list is one of the records that helped pave the way for what was to come.
Ritual de lo Habitual was the third album (second studio album, their debut was a live release...who does that?) by the Los Angeles quartet, Jane's Addiction. The band was started by lead singer Perry Farrell and bassist Eric Avery in 1985. Rounding out the original lineup was drummer Stephen Perkins and guitarist Dave Navarro.
I was turned onto the band by a high school friend (I tell this story in SLACKER) in 1987 or maybe 1988, but it was definitely early in the band's history. I fell in love with them from the first listen and have been a loyal fan ever since. Looking back over these last 36 years or so and seeing what a hot mess the band and its various configurations turned out to be, it's that much more impressive that their legacy and impact on alternative music is as strong as it is. The story of the band deserves its own article which I may write someday but for this one, it's all about Ritual de lo Habitual.
Recorded between 1989 and 1990, Ritual... (co-produced by Perry Farrell and Dave Jerden) was released on August 21, 1990, and is a masterpiece of an album whose impact has been felt far and wide since the day it was given to the world. One month after its release, 500,000 copies were sold and it has since gone on to sell over two million copies worldwide.
“Señores y señoras, nosotros tenemos más influencia con sus hijos que tu tiene
pero los queremos. Creado y regado de Los Angeles… Juana’s Adicción!”
The album opens with a peculiar spoken word piece which was recorded in Spanish by a friend of the band, Cindy Lair. The English translation is:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have more influence over your children than you do. But we love them. Born and raised in Los Angeles… Jane's Addiction!"
In a world long before the advent of Google, it was years before I knew what this mysterious woman was saying, and yet it was the perfect prelude to the chaotic album opener, "Stop". The track starts with a Red Hot Chilli Peppers-esque funk guitar riff with boundless energy, opening the door to a new sound that although not known at the time, was destined to change the rock 'n roll landscape for good.
The next four songs, "No One's Leaving", "Ain't No Right", "Obvious", and the band's MTV breakout hit, "Been Caught Stealing" all showcase the now-famous Jane's Addiction funk/punk/metal hybrid sound. "Obvious" is the slowest of this bunch but is buoyed by a hypnotic groove that makes the song feel faster than it really is.
Where Ritual de lo Habitual hits its stride however is with the final four songs on the album. It was no mistake that these songs comprised side two of the album as a singular unit. All four songs are woven together with similar atmosphere and style yet all hold very unique qualities that make each stand tall on their own.
The first of the four, a 10-minute, 46-second barrage of sound called "Three Days" is in my opinion, (and has been since the first time I heard it in 1990), one of the greatest songs ever written, period. The song begins with Perry Farrell reciting lyrics or poetry in a low, hushed tone followed by an instantly memorable, circular, and rolling bass line by Eric Avery. And can we stop here for a moment and say something about Avery's songwriting and bass playing?
One of the staples of alternative music of the late 80s/early 90s is the often-used technique of prominent bass lines either starting songs off or acting as the lead riff the song was built around. The Smashing Pumpkins did it, Nirvana did it, Tool did it, and the list goes on. This can all be attributed to the types of songs Eric Avery wrote and the hypnotic, looping bass lines he played. He's easily one of the best and most inventive bass players from the era and his influence can be heard on most alternative rock songs you love.
Back to "Three Days"...
The song begins slowly, plodding through a real-life experience Perry had with two female lovers over a three-day weekend. The music is somewhat ominous but has an underlying feeling of hope. The energy is always building, albeit subtly, but a payoff is in the offing.
A little beyond the three-minute mark, the track picks up its pace with a more aggressive bass line from Avery and Stephen Perkins' signature thunderous and tribal drum grooves propelling the song ever closer to the payoff that's been hinted at from the outset.
Around five minutes we get a beautiful but reserved guitar solo from Dave Navarro. Once again, the musicians continue to build anticipation with each note and section of this opus. Just when you think the solo is winding down, Navarro reaches another level and Avery and Perkins join him. You never do realize how long the song has been playing at this point (or any point for that matter) because as soon as a part seems over with, and you assume the band will go back to a previous one, a new part springs up.
After about seven minutes, some angst is apparent in the music as well as Perry's vocals. You're now officially on one of the greatest sonic rollercoasters you've ever ridden and you're still not through the best parts of it yet.
By now you've experienced pleasure, excitement, anticipation, power, bombast, and chaos. Trust me, it's all there...just listen.
By the time the song hits the 9:30 mark, we're at the full-blown ferocity level with more scorching guitar work from Navarro and a manic rhythm and groove section laid down by Perkins and Avery. Just at the right moment, and almost without notice, the song winds down to a whisper and just like that, it's gone.
What's most incredible about "Three Days" perhaps, is the band recalling that the recording of this song was done 100 percent live and in one take. Some band members differ on how many guitar overdubs may have been done after the fact, but does it really matter? This song, almost 11 minutes of chaotic beauty and fury, with countless tempo and atmospheric changes recorded live in ONE take?? That's stunning. Not to mention a completely lost art in today's recorded music.
The last three tracks on the album, the jangly-guitared "Then She Did", the Middle Eastern-influenced "Of Course", and the ballad "Classic Girl" (whose guitar sound has been copied on alternative rock ballads since this release) round out Ritual de lo Habitual, one of the best and most influential rock albums ever. If by chance you've missed this treasure or haven't listened to it in years, please block off the next 51 minutes and 32 seconds and let this record wash over you.
At the very least, get your "Three Days" fix here.
If you'd like to reserve your signed, limited 1st print run edition of SLACKER - 1991, Teen Spirit Angst, and the Generation It Created, click here.
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