Out & About

With a chameleon as flamboyant as Perry Farrell, it's hard to tell where the performance ends and the person begins. Jane's Addiction spawned fans and sneers in equal amounts and for the same reasons. It unleashed an ocean-sized ruckus of glam-metal post-punk up the beach in the late '80s, followed by Farrell packaging the whole alt-zeitgeist into a traveling cash cow called Lollapalooza. Playing ringleader to that circus was the perfect pinnacle for this New York City-born doll that found his calling in the goth-gaudy leather and lace of L.A.'s Sunset Strip. He's the original Hedwig with an angry inch--and then some, if his necromancing in early Jane's videos and his own The Gift "movie" are any indication.

Since shirking Jane's and its carnival, Farrell seems as though he can't decide if he wants to be Peter Gabriel or Brian Wilson, the world-beat eclectic or the pop psychedelic. He vacillated between the two on Porno for Pyros' two albums, alternating between feel-good SoCal summertime rolls and pigs-in-zen mountain songs of Eastern motifs. It made great pet sounds, but after Jane's ur-theatrics, there was nothing shocking about this pared-down Farrell vision, much less something to brand him one of the most adventurous musicians of the decade.

But the thread that constantly runs through Farrell's fantasies is an almost operatic narrative mood. Even in an outfit as outright prog extravagant as Jane's, Farrell displayed a panache for atmosphere. It crops up in the rhythmic progressions and classically formalist structure in Jane's cuts like "Three Days" and "The She Did." Such baroque settings permitted his Jane's band mates to noodle to epic ends, laying down a topsy-turvy backdrop for his lyrics, which were occasionally as flowery as they were inane.

That's why it's not surprising that Farrell's latest foray features a full-on exploration of electronics. The rhythmic collages and sensual tempo changes of drum 'n' bass are the sort of elements that can complement his quasi-pop temperament quite well, even if his latest, 2001's Song Yet to be Sung, reveals he still has room to improve. Song is as amber and languid in hue and mood as a sunset, and almost as relaxing. And while Farrell's lyrics aren't as visually rich on this outing, it's a rather sincere change of pace for the man. He seems to have allowed himself time to get into rave's wavy gravy and has made an earnest effort to adapt its diversity into his songwriting approach, enough to make you think he's not just another former rocker who's been caught stealing from the electro-revolution.

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is his unabashed advertising of his relatively recent adoption of Kabbalah mysticism, a strong examination of his Jewish heritage. It doesn't have the spark of conviction that John Zorn's Masada seethes with each and every note, but Farrell's also operating in an entirely different idiom. But if there's one thing you can count on with Farrell, it's that he's going to keep on keeping on. So you may want to give him a chance to get to where he's going. He would for you.

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Bret Mccabe