Shadows Collide with People
o take the easy introduction, a shadow first collided with Frusciante when, in 1992, he quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers and sunk into the self-doubt and drug dependency which almost cost him his life. Frusciante, carrying the weight of this rock mythic baggage, also has the weight of expectation as one of the most versatile guitarists (punk, funk, prog, pop) of his generation. Since 1995’s Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt solo debut, I’ve regularly swung between love (the scattered complexities amid the simplistic sketches) and hate (the playing sometimes resembles the overindulgences of a brainfried Lindsey Buckingham).
Where in the past his vocals have often sounded like he was chewing something, borderline screeching or someone getting used to his new teeth; here he’s clearer and stronger, using his range with relation to harmonies (as he does with the Chilis) as opposed to wailing up and down the scales like on Niandra Ladies. His four previous solo works have always kept their eye on the melody even if it was shattered, fucked, multi-tracked or turned inside out. As time has gone on, in fact, the albums have been getting progressively less experimental in structure, leading to the switch from four track recordings to this professional studio job. Helped out by Chili bandmates Chad, Flea and friend Josh Klinghoffer, Frusciante offers a melodious and lively spread of rock styles (even Air seems to be an influence on the misty vocodered closer “The Slaughter”) with nary a Mother’s Milk or Blood Sugar groove in sight, instead concentrating on conventional tuneage bolstered by organ, moog and splatters of electronics and pulse which colour the songs without crowding them. “Cut Out” expands his musical range beyond rock, pushing synthetic throbs amongst the guitar work.
Per usual for a Frusciante solo album, there are short instrumental pieces. Instead of acting as filler between the “real” songs, these simple pieces flitter across (and filter through) Shadows Collide with People creating a dislocated, dreamy humour. On several songs here, “Negative 00 Ghost 27” and “Omission” particularly, there are moods and sounds similar to those found on Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs, that kind of crackly Busby Berkeley choir passed through a crystal radio set, but rougher. The instrumental “Failure 33 Object” could safely pass as a piece of unsophisticated early 90s IDM, and is pleasant enough as an extended interlude, but works much better when following the flow of the album into the early Depeche Mode/Yazoo style intro of the album’s highlight “Song to Sing When You’re Lonely”. Over its reflective mellow guitar sound and laidback harmonies, John discusses responsibility and the damage done (‘No one chose to beat my pride down’). Similar ground is covered on “Time Goes Back” (‘I saw the days I lost’), amid background aahs and lifting/struggling choruses.
Imagining Kiedis doing a silly Freaky Styley rap over some of these melodies (even though he’s significantly cutting down these days) fills me with pure relief that Frusciante has found this creative outlet for his talents. The closest thing here to his day job is the near-two minute catchy rock and roll shake of “Second Walk”. Despite this, it’s the closest thing to the coherent style of the group that Frusciante has yet produced. As his vocals and confidence improve, maybe we’ll see a shift in Red Hot Chili Peppers to become a place where he and the others feel comfortable enough for him to fully express himself.
I feel patronising calling it a rebirth, return to form or a self-rehabilitation from the brink. Let’s just call it evolution.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: FEBRUARY 23 - FEBRUARY 29, 2004
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2004-02-23