Album review: Frusciante’s latest solo effort is dated
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of those bands that people love to hate. And they’ve earned it, mostly due to their insistence on going through life without shirts, and by having perhaps the most annoying frontman in rock history in Anthony Kiedis, who never found a melody he couldn’t mangle with his Kermit-like warble. Of course, none of this matters one whit to the band, which has played to packed arenas for more than 20 years.
But the band members — the ones who play instruments — were always solid and often impressive. Chad Smith and Flea are a powerhouse rhythm section, and Flea is easily a candidate for “best rock bassist ever” among people who are able to ignore his goofy court jester routine and focus on his nimble fingers.
John Frusciante, who left the band for the second (and probably final) time a few years back, is the group’s most notable guitarist. He played on “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and “Californication” — their biggest hit albums. He sang layered backing vocals that shone so brightly that they covered up the badness of Kiedis’ bleat. He’s an enormously talented weirdo who has released a number of bizarre solo albums, some normal ones and some other drug-damaged offerings that defy explanation.
His latest offering, “Enclosure,” somehow manages to meld almost all of his traits — good and bad — into one slab of music that alternates between electrifying and repulsive.
Frusciante’s last full-length release, “PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone,” was about as incomprehensible musically as its title was, and it’s a bummer to find that “Enclosure” features more of the same dated drum and bass beats skittering around on top of underwritten, over-recorded songs.
Since his departure from RHCP, Frusciante supposedly dedicated himself to becoming versed in the ways of electronic music, taking years to learn how to program sequencers and whatnot. You’d think this dedication to craft would lead to some groundbreaking results in the hands of a talented person like Frusciante, but instead, we have a bunch of lame top-40 radio breaks from 1998. The guy has apparently busted his behind trying to learn how to do stuff that Aphex Twin threw in the garbage 15 years ago.
It’s not all bad. There are some cool cinematic guitar moments in “Shining Desert”; “Sleep” features something resembling a triumphant chorus; and Frusciante’s expressive, tremulous voice is front-and-center on “Run.” But Frusciante cannot focus on his good ideas and let them play out without being ruined by his desire to throw a kitchen sink of fake drums and clichéd breaks all over everything.
Well, almost everything — “Fanfare” is the tent pole of the album and the one track that Frusciante allows to exist without gaudy electronic augmentation. It’s an ’80s-style pop success, and it’s the kind of direction he should pursue, rather than the drum-machine-gone-bonkers incoherence of the rest of his recent work. For now, Frusciante is seemingly in the midst of an extended transitional period that is producing very little in the way of listenable music.
John Frusciante / “Enclosure”
Producer: John Frusciante
Personnel: John Frusciante (vocals, guitar, electronics)
Sample: Listen to “Fanfare”
Tony Bennett can be reached at email@example.com.