John Frusciante: Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt

Adam Williams

John Frusciante

Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt

Label: American
US Release Date: 2003-06-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

As the Red Hot Chili Peppers continue to enjoy a remarkably successfully career spanning 20 years, the life and times of enigmatic guitarist John Frusciante are sometimes overlooked. Back in 1988 the teenage whiz stepped into a pair of sizable musical shoes after the untimely death of original Pepper Hillel Slovak, and anchored the band's breakthrough album, Mother's Milk. Two years later, Frusciante flashed more fretboard wizardry with his contributions on the massive Blood Sugar Sex Magik. What seemed to be a promising future for the young Frusciante took an unexpected detour, as the trappings of success proved too difficult to manage. An abrupt departure from the Peppers followed by a frightening spiral of drug addiction nearly claimed his life. Remarkably, however, Frusciante survived several very dark years to reemerge and join his Chili comrades once again in 1998. Since then, the Peppers have continued to record and tour to world wide acclaim, thanks in large part to Frusciante's resurrection and maturation as an innovative player.

After leaving the band in 1992, Frusciante took a page from the Syd Barrett book of musical eccentricity by delving into his creative consciousness. A pair of solo projects were released in 1994, but garnered little critical attention. Now, nearly a decade later, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt have been made available a second time and are worth revisiting.

Falling somewhere between madness and brilliance, the two sets of recordings exemplify a growing talent indulging himself in sonic exploration. While Frusciante's singing is often shrill and his lyrics confounding, the simplicity of his playing holds special appeal. In much the same way that blues great Robert Johnson's spartan recordings resonated with passion, Frusciante's acoustic and electric work shines in its sparseness. And it is in this unique and personal interpretation of the guitar that his hidden genius lies. There are no walls of amps or pounding rhythm section for support, merely a person playing for himself in an intimate, stripped-down home studio environment.

Of the two albums, Niandra LaDes is the more polished effort, as it is made up of a dozen "finished" compositions. Conversely, Usually Just a T-Shirt consists of 13 untitled tracks, mostly instrumental jams and snippets. In both cases, the recordings capture Frusciante going off on numerous tangents, resulting in an equal number of bizarre and endearing moments.

It would be easy to dismiss Frusciante as yet another talented, albeit spaced-out, guitarist plying his trade as a member of a multi platinum selling band. In fact, after inexplicably departing from the Peppers, Frusciante was labeled as a certified oddball. That said, the Niadra solo recordings from that time period tell a different story. While not commercially mainstream, the two albums hint at a deeply cerebral artist looking within for inspiration and creativity. What was found was a pronounced deviation from Frusciante's work with the Peppers, but the material speaks its own language.

Sensitive? Peculiar? Interesting? These words accurately sum up Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt. They also describe John Frusciante.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.