Unsung Classics, Part 5
As the longest-running guitarist for the world-famous Red Hot Chili Peppers, one could argue that John Frusciante is not exactly as ‘under the radar’ as the artists that have featured […]
As the longest-running guitarist for the world-famous Red Hot Chili Peppers, one could argue that John Frusciante is not exactly as ‘under the radar’ as the artists that have featured before in this column. While this is a fair assessment, what is less known is that the man is also a truly prolific solo artist, who produced an impressive catalogue during his tenure in the Chilis, and has departed their ranks in order to fully focus on his own work. It is one of his albums that I will be focusing on this week;
To Record Only Water For Ten Days, Warner Bros, 2000
Before making this album, John Frusciante was wracked by a ruinous drug addiction; he had lost his teeth, acquired horrific burns to his arms by accidentally lighting himself on fire while freebasing cocaine, and become skeletally thin. In short, he was a wreck. But, in 1998, with coercion from friends, he checked himself into rehab, and emerged totally clean, and To Record Only Water… was what resulted. It is the sound of a man who has been through hell and emerged in one piece; in spite of his rock/funk background, Frusciante’s efforts here owe much to ‘80s new wave and synthpop, with the dark mood of Depeche Mode and New Order being obvious touchstones. To Record…’s production is simple and imperfect, but the slightly grainy textures add a feeling of homespun warmth which can sometimes be absent from electronically focused albums. Its instrumentation is fairly sparse; it is simply Frusciante, electric and acoustic guitars, programmed drum loops, and warm washes of synth.
Right from the off, there is a sense of energy; opener ‘Going Inside’ opens with strong, clean rhythm guitar and a wailing, fuzzy guitar solo which is bound to grab your attention; lyrically, Frusciante tackles the ghost of his former demons “I moved this fight away / By doing things there’s no reason to do.” Every song is superbly constructed and consistently melodic; ‘With No One’, ‘Murderers’ and ‘Moments Have You’ are of particular note. There are also a few moments where the mood turns reflective and sombre; ‘The First Season’ builds a palpable atmosphere through Frusciante’s strong vocals and the intermingling of his acoustic guitar and humming synthesiser, while ‘Ramparts’ is a beautiful instrumental, a lilting dialogue between fingerpicked six-strings.
To Record Only Water… takes the best parts of synthpop and new wave and meshes them with the passion and focus of a truly brilliant guitarist and musician. Composed of precious few components, it evolves into something far more than the sum of its parts. Frusciante has gone on to make many more fine albums, but none of them are as consistent or as focused as this fifteen song collection. Even if you aren’t a particular fan of the genres mentioned here, you owe it to yourself to at least give this album a try. It is a triumphant milestone from one of rock’s genuine luminaries.