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CD REVIEW: Kind Heaven by Perry Farrell

A few weeks ago, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell released his latest experimental album, and it’s a doozy! Kind Heaven continues the trend of Farrell’s albums which generally center on the theme of global unification. Those albums include: Song Yet to Be Sung (2001) and Ultra Payloaded (2007) — the latter was released by his band Satellite Party. In addition to the thematic commonality among these three releases, for each of these records, Farrell has used his performances to champion the notion that people from all walks of life should get together and celebrate their collective existence; this has been a prominent motif of his shows and events since at least 1991, when he founded the Lollapallooza touring festival. For Kind Heaven, the music is also tied to a new immersive musical experience, which is scheduled to premiere in Las Vegas, in early 2020.

The album’s production is stylistically eclectic and hosts a diverse collection of performers. The various appearances throughout the record include: Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Elliot Easton (The Cars), and regular Farrell collaborators Peter DiStefano (Porno for Pyros) and Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction). Additionally, Farrell’s wife, Etty Lau Farrell, shares lead vocal credits on several of the songs (and sings back-up on most of them as well). Farrell co-produced the album with Tony Visconti (T. Rex, David Bowie, Iggy Pop), and he shares compositional credits with numerous musicians, including Joachim Garraud and Eddy Alain Gronfier.

Thematically, Kind Heaven is all over the place. The album begins with “(Red, White, and Blue) Cheerfulness,” a poppy tune which welcomes listeners to the album, begs the question “What can we learn from our collective fuck-up [that fuck-up likely being the election of Donald Trump to the office of US president]?” and urges people not to lose faith or pride in the positive aspects of humanity. The political theme continues with “Pirate Punk Politician,” another rather blatant attack of Trump [without naming him], which identifies several telling aspects of the president’s dangerous aspects; specifically, the lyrics reference the president’s tendencies to: blather, divide people, and manipulate facts to the extent that it makes his supporters question their own eyes and ears. Musically, the song mixes muscle rock with electronica; the hybrid of these and additional styles appears throughout the album — generally to great effect.

Musical experimentation remains one of the ongoing cornerstones of Farrell’s catalog. And despite the fact that overtly political material tends to dog the work of visionaries, there couldn’t be a better time for Farrell to go there with his lyrics than during the extremely politically charged ages of Trump and Mitch McConnell, the far right-leaning Senate Majority Leader who embraces obstructionism in his politics. That said, with track number three, Farrell changes thematic directions [at least insofar as stark imagery is concerned] with “Snakes Have Many Hips.” This triumphant number is a seductive, cabaret-sounding song with orchestral elements; the lyrics suggest the use of creative logic and / or sleight of hand in order to subdue linear-minded targets. The next song, “Machine Girl,” prominently features Etty Farrell’s singing. The track centers on the idea of cyber love and includes the guest guitar work of Dhani Harrison.

“One” comes next. This electro-pop song is just as strong musically as it is conceptually. The strings, electric guitar, and dance aspects rotate in prominence throughout, and the two Farrells share the vocal spotlight in a very bold love song, which reveals a woman’s questioning her place in her partner’s heart. Well-versed fans will likely read this as Farrell’s answer to his wife’s concern about their relationship being compared to the iconic relationship Farrell had with Casey Niccoli, during the Jane’s Addiction era. His response in the song is: “You’re better for me / Than she ever was.” If that is, indeed, what the Farrells are singing about, then this is probably one of the most courageous love songs to have ever been recorded.

The next track, “Where Have You Been All My Life?” is a decent number that revolves around the idea that getting high with a partner is more fun than getting high alone. Track number seven, “More Than I Could Bear,” comes across like a strange counterpoint to “One.” This song is also produced to the gills with eclectic components; it contains heavy guitars, a psychedelic / pop orchestration, a Middle Eastern motif, and again provides a spotlight for Etty Farrell’s singing; it seems to tell the story of a person who is blinded by love and stuck in a toxic relationship. Without context, this raises the question of whether or not there is, indeed, any thematic throughline or if the songs are — as I believe Farrell once said of his Janes tracks — each one, a world unto itself.

“Spend the Body” is an electronics-heavy song with an arrangement that is at times reminiscent of Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” The lyrics generally center on carnality (e.g. “Hump the body”) yet suggest at times that such imagery be read in the context of a musical or storytelling experience. Finally, “Let’s All Pray For This World,” has no evident subtext. It plays, ironically (or deliberately), like the grand finale of a musical Las Vegas show with heavy guitars and galloping strings.

Kind Heaven is an assemblage of both glorious and base elements. Its themes run the gamut from politics to raw love (in a couple of its forms) to utopian vision, with Farrell’s passion and strength of character being the glue that hold them all together. Musically, his productions have never been so diverse or so bold — sharing the vocal spotlight with anyone is atypical within his oeuvre. The successes of this highly experimental project can be somewhat hit and miss, but you’ve got to hand it to Farrell for going balls to the wall with his vision. Furthermore, it will be fascinating to discover how, exactly, this album ties in with the experimental theater piece that’s been at least five years in the making.

About Scott Feinblatt

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