Whether in flight from art-rock pretension or in pursuit of platinum-album awards, a new generation of bands has claimed hard rock. These are groups for whom the Sex Pistols are a childhood memory, but a stronger influence is so-called classic rock: the Stones, the Who, Led Zep. These days, of course, the self-destructive self-indulgence that was part of those bands' appeal no longer seems so clever. Neither, for that matter, does their music, at least as regurgitated by young rockers with little to add to the tradition they're saluting.
Jane's Addiction: 'Ritual de lo Habitual' Long-standing L.A. next-big-thing Jane's Addiction has had its heavy metal thunder stolen by Guns N'Roses, a punk-savvy, metal-tinged neo-rock band similar to Jane's but with more of a common touch. For what it's worth, though, the Addiction is clearly the more artful of the pair, and not just because singer and co-producer Perry Farrell makes the controversial nude sculptures that have served as cover art for the quartet's two major-label releases, 1988's "Nothing's Shocking" and the new "Ritual de lo Habitual" (Warner Bros.).
Farrell is also a craftier lyricist than most of his peers. Stripped-down and direct, the words to such songs as "Been Caught Stealing" and "Ain't No Right" achieve an almost Beckett-like spareness: "I am skin and bones. I am pointy nose," he begins the latter. (Continuing to quote from these lyrics would quickly yield one of the words that earned the album its "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" legend.) The "white Negro" stance that Farrell adopts for songs such as "No One's Leaving" ("I'm a white dread -- I'm a white dread, so?") is nothing new -- Norman Mailer invented the term before the singer was likely even born -- but his terse, relatively unsentimental style is distinctive among neo-rockers.
Terseness, alas, is a virtue not always honored on "Habitual," which indulges CD-era notions of value by letting five of its nine songs wander past the five-minute mark. After the punch of "Stop!," "No One's Leaving" and "Ain't No Right," encountering right in a row "Three Days" (10:45), "Then She Did ... " (8:19) and "Of Course" (7:02) should still the banging head of all but the most ardent Addiction addicts.
Not that these songs are standard-issue head-bangers; indeed, the album divides rather too neatly between the snappy rockers that open it and the minor-key folky ballads that close it. Guitarist Dave Navarro's solos are conventional neo-metal, but the band's arrangements offer enough tempo and dynamic variations (not to mention the occasional Gypsy violin) to hold the listener's attention through all but the most bloated of tracks. There may be little that's fresh in the Addiction's bad-boy pose, but Farrell and company do deliver their canine-toothed dispatches -- "Of course this land is dangerous! All of the animals are capably murderous," the singer warbles in "Of Course" -- with more verve than most.
Mother Love Bone: 'Apple' "Apple" (Polydor) is both the major-label-album debut and farewell of Mother Love Bone, a Seattle quintet. Lead singer Andrew Wood didn't take the advice of the band's own "This is Shangrila," which opens the album: "I don't believe in smack/ So don't you die on me," sings Wood, who died of a heroin overdose before the album was released. (The Bone has decided not to continue under the same name with another singer.) The song's theophagic imagery -- "The bread is my body ... the wine is blood/ Get me to the stage" -- would be unattractive enough without Wood's actually having delivered on the cornball rock-star-as-martyr conceit.
The Bones play with enthusiasm, and occasionally a stirring refrain will throw one of their secondhand songs into focus, as it does on "Holy Roller." Mostly, though, this is assembly-line product, complete with frequent trademark-identification messages: Wood often drops the band's name into his lyrics or patter. Both its themes (animal sex, mad love, good old rock-and-roll) and the language that expresses them ("a bad-moon's-a-coming," "I'll meet ya child by the back door") are recycled from the '60s rockers who borrowed them from the blues in the first place.
On "Captain Hi-Top," Wood attempts the rhyminess of rap, boasting that "I'm the instigator of the me generation/ The official seminator of the female population." Musically, however, the Bones have no truck with the '90s; "Apple" is mostly a sincere homage to the electric blooz of two decades ago. With that music more pervasive now than ever, though, the Bones' one-shot requires more than mere passion to supplant its models.
Alice in Chains: 'Facelift' If "Apple" ironically disses substance abuse, the bow of another Seattle neo-rock band, Alice in Chains, seems to celebrate it. The opening track of "Facelift" (Columbia) brags that "We Die Young": "Watch the blood float in the muddy sewer," sings Layne Staley, "Take another hit/ And bury your brother." Clearly, the Alices won't be in demand for high-school "Just Say No" programs.
The most metallic of these three bands, the quartet employs a sound that's something of a muddy sewer itself. Rattling, almost-subterranean grunge, such songs as "Bleed the Freak" and "It Ain't Like That," with its potent bass-note-bending hook, would sound nearly as appropriate emanating from the water main as from the stereo. Though produced by Dave Jerden, who co-produced "Ritual de lo Habitual," "Facelift" is nowhere near as expansive as the Addiction album. Instead, it sounds compressed, with Staley's voice riding near Jerry Cantrell's guitar in the bass-heavy mix. The result has a certain stolid strength, but most of the Alices' songs are far too mundane to benefit from it.