The album begins where the members were: in Los Angeles. As the first song on the album, “L.A. Song” acts as a statement about their deconstructionist approach.
“L.A. Song” starts slowly, with one of Navarro’s twinkling guitar lines, clear and crystalline as the intro to “Oceansize,” but better. Then Avery’s deep voice breaks the Jane’s connection, and the whole album becomes their own:
Blue screen water, it’s not an ocean anymore
It’s just a backdrop, now come on
Beneath the spoken words, a drum machine taps a high-frequency ride cymbal, and a bass drum softly booms, reverberating the way bass does from a low-rider. The percussion is electronic, the singing human. The combination soothes, like floating on your back in the Pacific Ocean. Then everything changes.
A guitar riff rips through the tranquility. Murphy comes in with his hard-hitting drums, and the guitar wails over Avery’s vocals, which he screams as if channeling a lifetime in this difficult city, screaming as if to be heard over traffic.
Move out flat, don’t rise up
Kraft cheese and a cup of joe, raw fish in a burrito
Game show straight to video in the land of the setting sun
He’s singing his mixed-up Los Angeles—its growth, its chaos, its trends, history, and malignancy.
“L.A. Song” makes beautiful use of Burroughs’ cut up method. Avery’s lyrical “collage of words read heard overheard” becomes an evocative, precise portrait. Avery and Navarro were born and raised in Los Angeles. “We know nothing else,” Navarro said. There are stacks of classic L.A. books and L.A. albums, from X’s Los Angeles to Kendric Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City to Ry Cooder’s Chávez Ravine. Deconstruction turned their complicated relationship with one of the world’s great metropolises into one of the greatest songs written about a city that’s been written about a lot.L.A. is a place whose personality comes as much from its residents’ cultural diversity as from its dizzying size and history. It’s the city of the future built on a past that too few outsiders know exists.
Applying the deconstructivist philosophy, the song juxtaposes live drumming with a drum machine. It also beginnings with a sample: A bit from the film Day of the Locust. “The film is based on a story by Nathanael West about the old Hollywood film system and its decadence in the thirties(?),” Avery told Jane’s Xine in 1996. “It is a very moral story about the Hollywood dream and its destructiveness. I felt we had to have an element of that in a song about my city. I also liked the sounds of set-up and construction as the song is beginning to be ‘built,’ so to speak.”
Under Navarro’s slashing guitar, Avery’s baritone speaks my favorite Deconstruction lines:
Psychotherapy sci-fi religion
Bikini barbells chakra gridlock
Don’t think just talk
Jog don’t ever walk
Weight loss talk radio
Roll up your window
With that unsettling call to roll up your window—is there a gunman loose? Choking air pollution?—the song changes again, moving for the third time into a very different section. The music gets faster, harder, ratcheting up the tension. A pulse beeps behind the music like a heart monitor, or maybe like a police siren ringing through the night. Your body tightens. You’re in the anxious city.
Private home securities take the streets
While the L.A.P.D. become blue machines
Cop copter spotlights down
Premiere klieg lights up
None of your business
Buildings gonna keep you out and keep us in
Read out loud, these lyrics don’t stand alone as poetry. Set to music, at Avery’s cadence, they are brilliant. Each line is the telling detail in the kind of complex profile that brings a place to life as if it were a person. The lines’ concision is part of their power—how they get right to the point. The art also comes from how perfectly Avery has arranged them and sings them to the music, and from the way the song’s different sections evoke distinct moments in urban life.