Originally published in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on October 13, 2012:
John Frusciante – PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone
For the uninitiated and those who are currently feeling the tip-of-the-tongue syndrome, John Frusciante is Red Hot Chili Peppers’ former guitarist, one who led them through some of their greatest funk hits, before departing in 2009. But there’s more to Frusciante than just the riffs he churned out for the Chili Peppers. He also served as guitarist for progressive psychedelic rock band The Mars Volta from 2003 to 2009.
Since then, he’s focused his efforts on his solo music, releasing his eleventh album, which is as delightfully weird as its title, PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone. Frusciante said the title alludes to his creative process of songwriting. If we are to believe that, then this album is every bit vague as it is (yet) enjoyable. It will probably take several listens to understand, though, and a trip back to his previous EP Letur-Lefr, which sees Frusciante go beyond his usual solo music style of psychedelic music meant for long nights and dark rooms.
On Letur-Lefr and PBX, Frusciante doesn’t have the usual alternative rock chords or walls of sound droning on from his guitar. Instead, he chooses jumpy drumbeats, matching a style closest to drum and bass at times, and rap vocals from Kinetic 9 (on ‘Ratiug’). The electro sounds may do enough to put the listener off, but what probably makes them stay is Frusciante’s eclectic vocals – ranging from croons to soft whispers and his unbelievably deep voice on songs such as ‘Bike’, ‘Mistakes’ and ‘Uprane’, which leaps at the listener with a fast beat and a chaotic mix of guitar and synth.
The only song that has any semblance of traditional alternative rock, a style familiar to fans of Frusciante’s solo work is ‘Ratiug’, a half-ambient, half-hip hop mash up. The straightened out song that follows it, ‘Guitar’, is an instrumental filler with a nod towards its reversed preceding track.
The last two tracks on PBX are ‘Sam’ and ‘Sum’, which is Frusciante’s way with titling songs. Most times, they are interconnected. But knowing the flow – or lack thereof – on this album,
‘Sam’ is dark and explosive, with the frenzied electro drumbeats, while ‘Sum’ comes across as a drum and bass remix of any of Frusciante’s songs from his back catalogue, containing a familiar wail of guitar lead solos.
Previous fans of Frusciante would be delighted to see him get this experimental, but for the castaways from Red Hot Chili Peppers, listening to PBX would be considered a risk. But if they survive that, then there are 10 other solo albums from Frusciante that need to be visited.