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From The Observer, Sunday February 4 2001:
by Burhan Wazir
HE'S BACK AND HE'S EVEN HAD HIS TEETH FIXED
THE CHILI PEPPERS' JOHN FRUSCIANTE HAS GIVEN UP DRUGS BUT STILL TRIPS OVER HIS LINES
The rise, fall and rise again of John Frusciante reads like a rock'n'roll fable. Back in 1991, Frusciante saw his group, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, leap from the LA underground into the mainstream with the classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The album produced the group's first breakaway hit, 'Under the Bridge'. The lead guitarist was immediately hailed as the spiritual heir of Bootsy Collins, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck - a virtuoso performer. But Frusciante retired from the group in 1992, after only a year on tour, complaining of exhaustion as the band's hardcore audience multiplied exponentially.
Frusciante was eventually rediscovered in 1998, a fragile, decaying figure who had sealed himself into his Hollywood Hills home. His upper teeth had fallen out, his legs, arms and ankles were pocked by cigarette burns and his fingernails were bloodied. Only 28 - and already a lauded guitarist credited with reinventing the art - Frusciante had become a rock'n'roll drug cliché.
'I had made the simple decision to give up living,' he says. He has subsequently undergone restorative dental surgery, and his arms are now scheduled for skin grafts to repair the damage from his addiction. He sits fidgeting with his toes, staring idly at the cup of tea next to him. 'It was as simple as that. I didn't see anything beautiful in the world any more; all the paintings, films and music seemed to be full of death. Can we change the subject?' he asks politely. 'I try not to talk about drugs any more - I just made the conscious decision to stop.'
But then his attention wanders back to those bare-bones years. 'I guess I don't mind talking about it - everything seems beautiful now. I listen to music and feel joy. Pure joy. It's not like I'd ever do drugs again - I've made the conscious decision to stop. Just as, back then, I made the conscious decision to become an addict.'
The guitarist's rehabilitation was marked by a musical renaissance. He rejoined his former band and their next release, Califonication, became their most impressive album since Blood Sugar Sex Magik. His new solo album is another triumph. To Record Only Water For Ten Days, much like Frusciante's previous two solo efforts - Smile From the Streets You Hold in 1997 and the even darker Niandra Lades & Usually Just a T-Shirt from 1995 - show he has a flair for sonics. Tracks like 'Going Inside', 'Remain' and 'Ramparts' display textures previously noted by Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds. And much like Keith Richards's seminal solo record from 1988, Talk Is Cheap, To Record Only Water For Ten Days shows a similar scant regard for pop songwriting conventions.
'I'm interested in creating music that doesn't owe anything to the blues,' says Frusciante. 'Guitar players inevitably end up rewriting old blues chords, so guitarists like Robert Johnson and B.B. King are a constant influence. I'm keen to get away from that; at least, I'm trying to get away from it. I think you can do that by treating the guitar as a textural instrument. It's like the way DJs use sound to create a feeling - not the ones who play dance records, but people like Moby and C.J. Bolland who want to create an atmosphere. Y'know? Making music that's like art - layered in many ways.'
His full-time employers, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have now completed a trilogy of albums under the guidance of producer Rick Rubin.
'But sometimes I find myself compromised in the studio,' says Frusciante. 'So I look to my solo material as music that lets me turn music of three-dimensions into four - eventually taking the listener into the fifth dimension.' I look at him blankly and he ventures to elaborate. 'Y'know? Taking people on a journey.'
Californians, typified by the East Coast intelligentsia as simple-minded folk from 'the land of the fruits and the nuts', have a knack for producing music oddballs - Brian Wilson, Arthur Lee and Grace Slick. But whereas this trio of music veterans have struggled to reclaim their lost talents, Frusciante, as obviously threadlike as his ego is, seems to have had few problems in flexing his creative muscles.
The afternoon wears on and Frusciante seems to shrink deeper into himself. He will stir into life later that evening, during a short set at London venue the Borderline. As he literally and endearingly stumbles through his back catalogue, Frusciante's voice will occasionally trip over the odd line. Not that it really matters - it lends his performance a spontaneity mostly lacking from modern rock musicians.
'I don't wanna do that song,' he mumbles. Then, perhaps for the first time in years, Frusciante meets his audience's gaze with a full-mouthed grin.
To Record Only Water For Ten Days is released on 12 February on WEA