John Frusciante Retrospective Series – Part 3: Look On

Following on the heels of the lushly-produced Shadows Collide with People, Frusciante’s subsequent work would take a decidedly fast and bare-bones approach. This came into play when the infamous “six albums in six months” project was initiated in 2004.

Of these six recordings, only three were released as full albums under the sole name of John Frusciante (though we’ll get to some of the others soon enough).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Will to Death was the first entry in this series, hitting the shelves in June of 2004. Indeed, the sonic qualities of the record are much more down-to-Earth than its predecessor with raw guitar and bass tracks and a lack of the lush of backing vocals of the previous release.

Thematically, this album could be seen as an exploration of the idea of death, leading to ruminations on other-worldliness and matters of the soul. One could interpret the songs to be suggesting that the physical realm which we reside is not where the true human essence lies and moreover, that what happens after our Earthly shells have gone is when “life” really begins. As the singer says himself, “becoming is what you do when you die.”

Appropriately, the lasting impact of this record and the ideas is it conjures is a mixture of sadness and optimism. But that juxtaposition is perhaps the best way for these ideas to be presented, both in the constraints of our physical life (“Life is unchanging, it let me go”) and in the uplifting hope for what lies ahead (“The will to death is what keeps me alive”).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

If one held to this view of The Will to Death, the later-release of Inside of Emptiness in October of 2004 could be seen as the yin to its counterpart’s yang.

Whereas The Will to Death portrayed the romanticism and fulfillment of a life yet-to-come, Inside of Emptiness focuses much more on, well, emptiness.

With a heavier and more distorted rock sound, Frusciante portrays characters who cling to their physical lives (“I know I’ll never be right behind tonight, so give me your hands and we’ll never die”), flounder in their relationships (“I wonder will I lose you, when we roam through a blizzard, we’ll joke and have another cry, I hope I’m not the other guy”), and have an absence of faith in the afterlife (“The world’s edge is closer, I’m gonna leap right off her, and that will be the end of me”).

Despite their seemingly contrary premises, the strengths of these records are elevated due to their undeniable universality.

The Will to Death appeals to our desires to be spiritually at peace, to be comfortable with our fates, and to welcome what awaits us after this life. And although many of us may strive to reach this state of mind, we all have unavoidably been through the more base emotional depths of doubt, confusion, and fatalism found on Inside of Emptiness.

They both are fantastically orchestrated entries in Frusciante’s oeuvre on their own, yet when they are together, they begin to seamlessly intertwine to create one complete picture, and it is one that everyone can recognize.

The Will to Death
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Highlights: “A Doubt,” “Time Runs Out,” “Unchanging,” “The Mirror,”  “Far Away,” “The Days Have Turned”

Inside of Emptiness
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Highlights: “What I Saw,” “Inside a Break,” “Look On,” “I’m Around,” “Scratches”

~ Stephen


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