2004 was a great year for music, primary because of John Frusciante who released a grand total of seven albums and one EP in that year. I was primarily going to write about the first of these, Shadows Collide With People, but then I started thinking about the others and found I was struggling to separate them in terms of how much I like them. So I’m going to combine them all into one mega-album.
So let’s get one thing out of the way first: I think Frusciante is not only the greatest living guitarist, I also believe he is somewhat of a musical genius. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers are, in my opinion, just not worth listening to when he’s not in them – it’s Frusciante who elevates them from a passing curiosity into a genuinely interesting band. And his solo work is miles ahead of even their best record (By the Way in case you were wondering). Even though he has recently started making avant-garde electro music which I struggle to listen to, I suspect the fault here is mine and not his. I have the niggling thought that he’s just too far ahead right now of what I’m capable of properly appreciating and that at some point in the future it will just dawn on me.
Anyway, back to these albums. We are ostensibly talking here about the following (not strictly in order as I can’t quite remember the release sequence):
- Shadows Collide With People
- The Will to Death
- Inside of Emptiness
- The DC (EP)
- A Sphere in the Heart of Silence
- The Brown Bunny (Soundtrack)
Shadows Collide… was recorded around the same time as By the Way so perhaps unsurprisingly isn’t a million miles away from that record stylistically. It’s more experimental though, with sections of white noise and some very strange instrumentation here and there. It’s an incredible album though, there is not a bad song on it. And it’s the first time Frusciante’s voice hits its stride – on previous recordings he slips in and out of tune frequently, here it’s strong and on point throughout.
The Will to Death was the next record out, and it’s much rawer than Shadow’s Collide…, it’s louder too. He goes back to his electric guitar much more frequently on this one. I remember reading an interview with him at the time where he said he spent so long in the studio on the first of these records, trying to make it sound perfect, that he just gave up and whacked out the rest, warts and all. Not that there are many warts, it all sounds just fine to me. I’ve included the track ‘Unchanging’ below as it has a nice rhythm to it and the guitar solo at the end reminds me of his finest hours on tracks like ‘I Could Have Lied’ and ‘Scar Tissue’.
I could include several tracks here from each album (with maybe the exception of Ataxia which I think is probably the weakest of the lot, though interesting in its own way) but I would be here all day if I did that. So let’s jump forward to A Sphere in the Heart of Silence. I remember this was a contentious one at the time. Because it’s more electronic than any of the others, he uses samples and loops, synthesizers. In retrospect, it was a foretaste of what was to come from Frusciante, but I really liked it from the off. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but then each of these records was subtly different from the last, this was just a different kind of different.
Perhaps the best way to talk about this incredible body of work is via the last record I listed, The Brown Bunny soundtrack he contributed to for his friend Vincent Gallo. That seems a perfect collaboration to me because that’s what Frusciante’s music is like – the equivalent of a low budget, highly stylised American indie film. It eschews slick production values for the opportunity to look at the world in an entirely new way. Inventive, quirky, occasionally difficult, but always earnest and revelatory. I spent most of 2004 immersed in this alternate universe of his, and make no mistake that’s precisely what it is. I hardly listened to anything else other than these records, to the point that it became a little claustrophobic in there. I go back to them now sparingly, not because their allure has dimmed, it hasn’t, at all. But because I can so easily get lost in there. So how’s that for a strange recommendation: check these out, but be careful, they’re almost too good.