“Beginning to Gauge What Porno for Pyros Means in the Grand Scheme of Things”

Perry Farrell has always amazed me. Lead singer of multiple bands, including Jane’s Addiction (who have put out exactly one excellent album, and nothing else, in each of the past four decades, astoundingly enough), founder and curator of Lollapalooza and general Dionysian madman of the Los Angeles night, he’s the kind of guy who could never get back what he’s put into the alternative rock scene. 

In the early ’90s, too, Jane’s Addiction was taking off, you might say. “Been Caught Stealing,” a single from their second album, Ritual de lo Habitual, spawned a video that was pretty much on repeat on MTV, of two people dressed in “fat” wear, like fake flab made of cushioning, and stuffing an endless amount of food into their arms, sides, loins and wherever else they could fit it, all for the sake of five-finger discount. 

Just when this whole project was really gathering up some serious momentum, then, two band members, guitarist Dave Navarro and bassist Eric Avery, each found themselves engulfed in drug issues and had to exit the band. 

Farrell, then, did something a little bit unusual: he kept the band going, with drummer Stephen Perkins and two new members, but gave it a new name, Porno for Pyros. Sure, the music would take on somewhat of a new direction of ethnic funk, but if you look at JA, they were destined for the same turn in their 2003 reincarnation of Strays, with Navarro back in the band. 

So, anyway, as it stacks up against the venerable JA, Porno for Pyros is, at least, you have to admit, pretty phenomenologically cool. It’s a side project borne not out of the drive to venture out of the default artistic mode but rather by complication, misfortune and, ultimately, the integrity to keep JA sacred and not try to sell its name when a key member were absent from it. Boy could Alice in Chains, Blind Melon and Stone Temple Pilots learn from this model.

Back in college, I remember, in about 2005 or so, I’d scored both PFP CD’s from the library, looking a little weird and anachronistic in the process, I’m sure. One interesting thing is that they’re both really distinct — the latter, God’s Good Urge (1996), is more replete with radio-ready pop tunes like “Kimberly Austin”; “100 Ways” and “Tahitian Moon”; while the self-titled debut from ’93 is more packed with physical, uniform funk-rock. Right away, I preferred the debut, for its ability to establish a tight groove and sustain it, all over pretty and translucent production, but when this girl I was talking to said she preferred God’s Good Urge, it actually won me over, and I started listening exclusively to that one, loving that finale “Bali Eyes.”

Just a second ago, I listened to the debut all the way through and I have to crown it champion of their catalogue, although there have been several reports that they’re currently in the process of recording new material. And if the Jane’s Addiction albums from this century are any indication, Farrell’s not the type to half-a** this stuff, or go in there without any inspiration. I even enjoyed the song “Pets,” an overplayed single from the mid-’90s, which surprised me — the production was liquid-y and trippy enough that its relatively scant amount of hook didn’t surface as an overwhelming blemish. The strongest track was probably “Cursed Female,” operating, albeit, within roughly the same interface of trippy, Dionysian funk-rock (played by guitarist Peter Distefano on a Gibson EDS, per report) governing the album as a whole. 

Now, Porno for Pyros is an interesting phenomenon, you might say, in part because they’ll always be a novelty act — the cultural, if not to say artistic, subservient to Jane’s Addiction, hastened into existence by dour circumstances. They don’t have any songs as big as “Jane Says,” or even “Been Caught Stealing,” if the stream totals on Spotify are any indication. Their flagship moment, along with “Pets,” which got regular play on MTV and rock radio in ’93 and ’94, is probably “Kimberly Austin,” which I remember as being featured on a 120 Minutes compilation along with other fringe acts which were perhaps too dark or eccentric for the main billboard and alt-rock charts. 

Really, this is funny, though, because “Kimberly Austin” is a really docile, beautiful tune — it’s universally enjoyable and doesn’t require any sort of especial perspective, or amount of jaded compunction, to understand. It’s just so stupefying to me, though, that it issues from the same band that did “Orgasm”; “Blood Rag” and all these defiantly rhythmic, richly Dionysian and sensual cuts on the self-titled debut. In this way, Porno for Pyros seems to have the curse of just being an extenion of Jane’s Addiction: in an endorsement of artistic exploration and uncovering little treasures of madness in the urban miasma, he relegated the idea of a nuclear sound, or m.o., for this precocious “side project,” to the back burner.  


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