In 1988, alternative music did not really exist outside of college campuses. Rock radio was dominated by hairy men like Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Major labels were not going out on a limb to release anything interesting. The P.M.R.C. (Parental Music Resource Center) was trying to slap warning labels on anything deemed controversial. It’s amazing that Nothing’s Shocking made it past the corporate censors. It had nudity on the cover, the biggest potential single was about a junkie, and it was generally too weird for mainstream tastes.
The album starts out a little slowly, but picks up tempo and intensity on the second song, the dreamlike “Ocean Size.” The aggression peaks on the third track, “Had A Dad.” The words compare a father leaving his children to God abandoning humanity. The fourth song, the awkwardly titled “Ted Just Admit It,” is the first of the album’s two key tracks. It’s a 7+ minute indictment of mass media. The tension builds layer by layer. It climaxes with a wall of guitars over tribal drums and the hypnotic chant of “Sex is Violent.”
The mellow and psychedelic “Summertime Rolls” leads to the loud, churning “Mountain Song.” On “Idiots Rule,” guitars compete with jazzy horns for space in the mix. “Jane Says” features acoustic guitar and steel drums. This is the albums other key track, and its emotional center. It stands in stark contrast with the songs around it. “Pigs In Zen” wraps things up, it’s both funky and antagonistic.
The album is well paced, a reminder of an era when people listened to records (tapes, CD’s) from beginning to end. Even the throwaway songs (“Up The Beach,” “Thank You Boys”) help to set the mood and provide sonic variety. It is a strange mish mash of hard rock and high art, psychedelia and in your face funk. It’s a combination that defies logic, and works beautifully in spite of itself.
The record is also a showcase for Dave Navarro’s soaring guitar work (before he became a celebrity manwhore). His riffs are huge and his leads are blistering. His chops inspired many of the lesser bands to follow. Perry Farrell’s voice is the other star of the show (before he became a business mogul). He’s confident and charismatic, androgynous and dangerous. His banshee wail ties everything together.
Nothing’s Shocking was not a big success at the time it was released. Its songs did not really get much mainstream airplay until after 1990’s Ritual De Lo Habitual was a hit. It does not sound like it belongs in the late 80s. That’s probably why it has aged much better than most albums from that era. This was Jane’s Addiction’s artistic high water mark. Renewed attention to this record should blow the minds of a whole new generation.
Review taken from Punk News