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Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Water torture

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2001 at 12:00 AM

If Damon Gough — the British folkie studio tinkerer who turned out The Hour of Bewilderbeast, one of last year’s most endearing records — can call himself Badly Drawn Boy, John Frusciante should dub himself Badly Drawn Madman.

Like Gough, Frusciante (better known as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ flaky guitarist) is introverted to the extreme, caught up in his insular world and piecing together his songs out of whatever thoughts happen to drift into his autodidactic mind. And if some of the tracks on To Record Only Water for Ten Days (his third solo record) sound like they were recorded in his bedroom and never meant to fall on anyone else’s ears, that’s no accident; that’s the point.

But where Gough is merely diffident, Frusciante gravitates toward the discomfiting territory charted by such madcap songwriters as Syd Barrett and the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Most of the time, you can’t quite understand what he’s talking about, but the mishmash of sounds speaks to the demons we assume are bouncing around Frusciante’s head. Drum machines meet electric guitar, droning synths meet acoustic guitar, all sorts of ambient noise underlies stream-of-consciousness mumbling and whining. And that’s not to mention the out-and-out demos, which can be distinguished from the “songs” not because they’re less complete as compositions, but because they’re even more shabbily recorded.

For normal people, it’s hard to be anything but half-enthused about a record like To Record Only Water … : Some of it sounds great right away (“The First Season,” a relatively normal folk song, works particularly well), and some of what was obscured by the weirdness later reveals itself as great. But much of it is throwaway nonsense. That’s largely because each song is only as good as whatever whim inspired it. On “Murderers,” the whim seems to have been to come up with a darkly unsettling instrumental, but the results sound eerily like old-school video-game music. “Remain,” on the other hand, isn’t unsettling by default but by design, as Frusciante’s abstruse crooning somehow fits right in with the folky hook and electro-noises.

It’s not going to win over anyone who’s much less of a weirdo than Frusciante, and it’s certainly not something Anthony Kiedis and Flea are going to want to co-opt. But considering the flashes of brilliance strewn about To Record Only Water for Ten Days, there are certainly worse ways Frusciante could be spending his free time.

E-mail Christian Hoard at


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