John Frusciante Retrospective Series – Part 2: How Energy Stays Alive

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

If Niandra LaDes & Usually Just a T-Shirt and its follow-up Smile from the Streets You Hold are collectively the embodiment of a man’s inner-turmoil, then 2001’s To Record Only Water for Ten Days is the much-needed cleansing after such a taxing journey. And perhaps “cleansing” is an appropriate summation of the overall period of time that this record represents.

Prior to this release, Frusciante had been checked into rehab to ultimately leave his drug habits behind, and he had reconnected with his old bandmates in the Red Hot Chili Peppers thus spawning the creation of their 1999 comeback album, Californication.

This is all worth mentioning because like the songwriter’s impending demons went hand-in-hand with the first two Frusciante solo albums, this era of prosperity is equally inherent in the work of To Record Only Water for Ten Days.

Sonically, the album traverses the style of new wave music with its use of electronic elements like synthesizers and drum machines. Though this is an immediately-noticeable shift from the last entries, the songs flourish in this new format. Frusciante’s songwriting has also evolved from his initial stream-of-consciousness writing to a distinctly more pop-oriented song structure.

The effect is often mesmerizing, with a wealth of brilliant cuts such as the signature track, “Going Inside,” the 80’s-era vibe of “Fallout,” and the beautifully hypnotic closing number “Moments Have You” among many others.

To Record Only Water for Ten Days surely stands as a landmark album for Frusciante due, in large part, to the overarching effect of purifying liberation that it carries.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This focus on spiritual matters is a theme that will tend to make itself evident in much of Frusciante’s solo works, but the singular album where it reaches its apex is on the next entry on the man’s discography, 2004’s Shadows Collide with People.

Remember in my review of Niandra when I mentioned how purchasing that album as my personal introduction to Frusciante’s music left a sour taste in my mouth? Well, this is the album that would come to quickly rope me back in.

Shadows is, in many ways, a logical follow-up to its predecessor in that it expands upon most ideas that To Record Only Water introduced.

For instance, the last record saw the beginnings of experimentation with synthesizers and electronic music, a tool that is widely dispersed throughout Shadows as well from the prelude to the heavenly opener, “Carvel,” to instrumental tracks like “-00Ghost27.”

What’s more, the incorporation of pop elements into Frusciante’s songwriting reaches a climax with this album. With such strong cuts as “Ricky” and the vocal trade-offs with songwriting partner (and future Chili Pepper)  Josh Klinghoffer, this is probably the most potentially radio-friendly collection in John’s solo career (though I use the term “radio-friendly” theoretically).

But with that, we come to a seemingly common bone of contention some fans may hold towards this album. As previously mentioned, this entry is probably Frusciante’s most “polished” record. It certainly has the highest production values of all of his albums thus far, and as a result, it is the most grandiose.

But for fans of the works in Smile and Niandra, that could be considered a flaw. Shadows, with its big, lush sounds, could be looked upon as less intimate than the stripped-down nature of his debut efforts.

Though this stance is somewhat understandable, it may be an oversight. While the sound is undeniably more layered and clean, the subject matter and the message of the album seemingly stands as one of personal salvation. And though a song like “The Slaughter” may not feel like one is in the same room as Frusciante as it did in “My Smile is a Rifle,” the themes are no less heartfelt. And with the grand instrumental backing that exudes though each of the songs on Shadows, the subject matter and sonic landscape are perfectly matched.

Shadows Collide with People may be the most glorified of all the Frusciante albums, but this is presumably done so by design. The multiple layers of sound are in place to reflect the impenetrable layers in the search for redemption.

To Record Only Water for Ten Days:
Rating: 4 out of 5
Highlights: “Going Inside,” “First Season,” “Fallout,” “Moments Have You”

Shadows Collide with People:
Rating: 5 out of 5
Highlights: This is an album that should be listened to front to back as it works best as a whole piece of work. That being said, the songs “Carvel,” “Omission,” “Ricky,” “Song to Sing when I’m Lonely,” “Chances,” and “The Slaughter” deserve some mention.

~ Stephen

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