John Frusciante – To Record Only Water For Ten Days
Released February 13th, 2001 on Warner Bros. Records
Produced by John Frusciante
John Frusciante was always the ghost at the heart of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ success. When he joined, at the precocious age of 18, it was in the immediate wake of the overdose death of their original guitarist Hillel Slovak. He would develop his own problems with heroin, but before that he would be present for the Chili Peppers’ rise to stardom. His first album with the band, 1989’s Mother’s Milk, suffered from an overabundance of metal guitar tone, thanks to an overzealous producer. The followup, though – another album with a milestone anniversary this year – showed a more intricate side to his guitar playing. It’s become a huge cliche to refer to Frusciante’s playing on Blood Sugar Sex Magik as “post-Hendrix” but there is a grace in his phrasing that makes the comparison inevitable. Most players that garner comparisons to Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, or whoever you like often suffer from main character syndrome. They become the focus. Frusciante’s work has never made him the focus of the band; RHCP work as a collective and his playing is an integral part of that collective but carefully never overshadows it. In a sense his playing is much like Tom Verlaine’s, in that you can definitely taste the flavour but it’s never the only real ingredient. Both guitarists share an affinity for short, memorable passages over lengthy wank-fests, as well.
To Record Only Water For Ten Days showed another side of Frusciante, one that had only been hinted at previously. He’d left RHCP at the peak of their success, claiming artistic differences but also simply unable, at the age of 20, to cope with the band’s meteoric and seemingly overnight success. This had also been fueled by what became, by the mid-1990s, an absolutely brutal heroin addiction; he was at one point reduced to a mere skeleton and nearly died from an oral infection. He released two solo albums during this period, the first of which is an interesting if ultimately flimsy attempt at avant-garde art-making and the second of which is uncomfortable to listen to. This was done, he admitted, just to get some money to keep up his habits. When he nearly died, got clean, rejoined RHCP, and recorded 1999’s landmark Californication album, he was gripped with the idea of releasing his own music that aimed for something more widespread; something that spoke to more people than just fellow weird L.A. addicts. The result was this album, written and recorded on the Pepper’s world tour behind Californication. It’s an album that showcases his interest in rhythm programming (an interest that would manifest in his electronic detour during the 2010s), his understanded, punk-flecked guitar playing, and the lonesome melody-making that also lurks in the shadows of some of RHCP’s best songs. His solo debut, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt, shows glimpses of what he would do here, but a newfound confidence in his sobriety and a willingness to incorporate synthesizers and programmed drums adds a layer of depth and texture to the songs. “Fallout” and “Ramparts”, particularly, sketch out what this album is about: moments of post-grunge rock ‘n’ roll mope-stomp with moments of brittle, heart-wrenching guitar leads. He has recorded a veritable ton of music since, both with and without the Chili Peppers, but To Record Only Water For Ten Days remains his best album.