nder the Covers is a fortnightly column concerning the packaging, artwork, and design that goes into albums. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.
Jane’s Addiction eponymous debut (better known as XXX after the record label name on the album’s spine) gave birth to a band that managed to combine a sense of musical and self-exploration within the traditional structure of rock music. A mixture of live recording and studio-tinkering, the album compiles from an acoustic and electric show on the same evening at infamous Sunset strip club The Roxy. It captures some of the force and poise of the band in the early stages of their career. Vocalist Perry Farrell appears to be tied up on the cover, but this isn’t an image of restraint. The fact that his stitched and bound crotch is rather lovingly crafted implies an overt kinkiness. His hands (perhaps bound) behind his back leave him open, submissive, and acquiescent to whatever comes next. Further clouding things, though, is the split background color between white and black. Is this a good scene or a bad one? Dangerous, strange, unafraid to ask for your input, a little dark and sexual; it’s a good summing up of the band.
What the hell did Siamese twin mannequins sitting on a double rocking chair with their heads on fire say to middle class white America in 1988? The cover of their true debut album confronted people with an artistic depiction and merging of sex, violence, and social politics. Spelling it out loud, proud, and in your face with the defiant title of Nothing’s Shocking printed below the sculpture, Jane’s were pushing people to take a stance before they even got as far as opener “Up the Beach.” Put together by lead singer / visionary Perry Farrell and ‘art assistant and lover’ Casey, the band took their lyrical ideas and pushed it on to the cover, illustrating the division between an emerging generation of kids brought up in a culture of televised homicides and the adults who allowed it happen on their watch. That being said, as much emphasis is placed on the artistic comment as is the easily decipherable social message.
While it obviously courts controversy with a certain demographic, the image is captured in simple monochromes avoiding the clearly more lurid touches that flesh tones and burning plastic red/blue/yellow would bring to the cover. But it wasn’t always meant to be as such: rare early editions came covered in ribbed green rubber, adding a further sexual twist.
Ritual De Lo Habitual
Perry Farrell’s Christ complex was fully in the ascendant on Ritual De Lo Habitual and the cover is the perfect representation of both this as an idea and the music contained within. Three paper mache figures of naked Perry, naked partner Casey and semi-naked ‘friend’ Xiola embrace on a bed surrounded by pieces of semi-religious object d’art like a black voodoo Jesus on a cross, tarot cards, and a chicken in bondage gear. It’s obvious that this is meant to be a take on Jesus and his Mary’s (as taken from the lyrics to “Three Days”) with their spiked golden halos, yet this cover doesn’t seem to be used as mere bait for the theists and prudes.
And, in these times, when \the Catholic Church attacks silly fictional paperbacks for misrepresentations of Catholic doctrine, it isn’t really that surprising that the cover’s skewed triptych caused a ruckus back in 1990. While the LPs focus primarily falls on vocalist / lyricist Perry (as with most rock criticism) and his words, it isn’t the male rock god Perry who takes the central position, but the green dread-locked female Casey. It’s her gaze that stares out from the cover locking onto the viewer as she holds / comforts both Perry and Xiola in her arms. Is she the strength, the muse behind this collection of songs? Is Xiola the whore Magdalene in her stockings and lace brassiere and is Perry the supplicant before his female companions?
Just like the songs on Ritual the cover is alive and full of intriguing detail, meaning and interpretation. Bright, colourful, loud, and brazen (a scarlet bed sheet, one penis, a vagina and a pair of breasts, thank you very much) it’s very much the definitive art statement whose attitude, influences, and sound helped shape alternative music and a generation of piercing, braiding free spirited behaviour. While side one covers the big picture and Perry’s pronouncements on his worldview, and side two reveals the more personal revelations, the cover manages to put across the fact that that more is going on upstairs than mere music. It’s a shrine to a state of altered opened mind more than a hasty art department submission, the band’s name and LP title kept low-key.
It’s worth noting that this cover was so shocking to some record storeowners and annoying (and possibly creationist) political action groups that Warner Brothers and Jane’s came to a compromise over an alternate cover. The front cover would feature Article 1 of the First Amendment from the U.S. Constitution covering freedom of speech and the following media rant, "Hitler's syphilis-ridden dreams almost came true. / How could it happen? By taking control of the media. / An entire country was led by a lunatic . . / We must protect our First Amendment, / before sick dreams become law. / Nobody made fun of Hitler??!"
With the band’s break-up, Ritual De Lo Habitual was to be their last LP until 1997’s Kettle Whistle—a compilation of demos, out-takes, live stuff, and a few new tracks. Aptly enough, for such a poorly devised and incomplete release the artwork itself looked lazy, as though it didn’t belong in the band’s discography, much like the release itself. Looking like a poor print of an old Jane’s gig poster from the recording of their debut album, this blatantly advertises its own rehashed content. Its almost 20s / almost art deco feel seeks to add an air of classiness to the whole affair, but instead makes this look dated and altogether out of time. And this is something that the original music will likely never be.
It might be harsh to say so, but the topless ‘angel’ on the cover appears more like a prostitute selling herself to the hungry crowd one last time. Reliving past glories by using the link to the first LP, she kneels expectantly looking up for approval and / or recognition. Caricatures of topless women weren’t exactly the stuff of old folks nightmares in 1997, and if this was aiming for some sort of sex appeal then it’s sorely missing its mark. It’s hard to believe, or perhaps hard for a fan to accept, that this was boring cover was born of any artistic vision or idea from the band or Perry.
The reunion saw the band (minus pivotal player and bassist Eric Avery) release a full album of new material and, well…Jesus, just look at them up there. Who looks worse? Navarro’s half-mime posture (far left) or Perry’s (second from right) pre-Terror Squad “Lean Back”? New recruit Chaney fills the gap between the bands lynchpins, rightly hiding head down, perhaps sensing he’s filling shoes too big for him. Drummer Stephen Perkins barely comes away with his dignity intact in his b-boy stance. Surely the last resort of any rock act is to put their own image up on the cover—it seems self-celebratory in the crassest of ways; more “look at me” than “come with me.”
You can judge an LP by its cover, Strays has none of the fire of their pre-reunion music and their lack of pride in the work they did together is self evident in the farcical clowning of the cover photograph.
By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2005-03-29