25 Years Ago: Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Nothing Shocking’ Album Released
‘Nothing’s Shocking’ is the best ’90s alt-rock album of the ’80s.
Released 25 years ago today on Aug. 23, 1988, Jane’s Addiction’s official studio debut stands up with the most influential albums of all time. Original and forward-looking, it served as a warning shot for the coming alt-rock revolution, and it’s had a lasting effect on radio, as ‘Jane Says’ and ‘Mountain Song’ remain in heavy rotation.
‘Nothing Shocking’ arrived midway through a strange, somewhat monumental year for music. The Pixies’ ‘Surfer Rosa,’ N.W.A.’s ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Isn’t Anything,’ Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’ and Metallica’s ‘…And Justice for All’ all hit Strawberries and Tower Records shelves that year. With all this groundbreaking music dropping at once, it wasn’t clear which way mainstream tastes were headed, though in many ways, Jane’s Addiction had the sound that would win out.
Musically, ‘Nothing Shocking’ is the most cohesive of Jane’s Addiction’s albums — and it may be the most mainstream. That makes sense, given that it was the L.A. group’s first go at a major studio release. The opening track, ‘Up the Beach,’ is the perfect gateway drug: a laid-back bass line to start, followed by a soaring wall of guitar. From there, guitarist Dave Navarro lets loose with the heroics, and on the second track, ‘Ocean Size,’ he comes out of nowhere with a tremendous solo that builds and builds, showcasing his chops. A couple songs later, we get ‘Ted, Just Admit It…,’ about famed serial killer Ted Bundy, and its from a lyric in that tune that the record gets its title.
Although fans and critics often praise Navarro and JA frontman Perry Farrell, bassist Eric Avery’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. Avery helped write two of the album’s most notable tracks — ‘Jane Says’ and ‘Mountain Song,’ both based on their bass lines — and his playing takes a front seat throughout. In recent years, Avery has garnered attention for twice quitting a re-formed JA, leaving Nine Inch Nails and parting ways with Garbage, but it’s possible he’s one of those rare examples of a songwriter in bassist’s clothing. Possible commitment issues notwithstanding, Avery deserves credit for a lot of what’s great about ‘Nothing Shocking.’
Farrell’s vocals, meanwhile, are strangely perfect for 1988; they have a screamy-clean quality that would’ve sat well with the hair-metal dudes, but they’re just insane enough not to warrant comparisons to the Warrants and Poisons of the time. In a sense, Jane’s Addiction was straddling the ’80s and the ’90s, whether they knew it or not. While Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ has been singled out as the most groundbreaking album of the ’90s, this ’80s classic may well deserve that distinction. The world just wasn’t yet ready to give up its ‘Cherry Pie.’
According to a 1988 article in BAM, the album’s cover — which features the bare breasts of Farrell’s then-girlfriend — got it “banned by seven major record distributors.” ‘Nothing Shocking’ was, in fact, shocking, and amid the censorship, it reached No. 103 on the Billboard 200. ‘Jane Says’ hit No. 6 on the Modern Rock singles chart, and while Jane’s would have to wait for their next album, ‘Ritual de lo Habitual,’ to finally crack the Billboard Top 20, history has been kind to ‘Nothing Shocking.’ In 2005, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 312 on the list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.