John Frusciante - Enclosure

by Bryn Dawson

Finally it’s here: the new John Frusciante album entitled Enclosure landed on the April 7th. Prior to the release, JF had his fans wondering whether or not the virtuoso musician had returned to the direction of his most cherished works, or continued along the same lines of the imploding electronica that was PBX.

There is a real danger of me sounding like a bit of a cock when talking about Frusciante due to my love for the man. It might get a bit homoerotic, and it might get a little pretentious, but essentially the man is a living legend. Always the most humble of the Chilli Peppers alongside Anthony Kiedis and Flea’s sometimes tedious antics, he contributed to their most successful works, being the soul behind Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication, and By The Way. By 1991, Frusciante started to suffer from what Cobain would suffer with a year later: a hatred of fame and all its trappings. A whistle stop of his life couldn’t pass by the horrendous heroin addiction that took him into a dismal 5 year abyss. Skeletal and near death, he rejoined the peppers in 1999 and began his ascent back to health.

It is important to highlight his time in the embrace of the needle and its importance to his art (and art is a word I use with complete seriousness here). The madness of a soul under the encryption of heroin is fascinating, the results of which manifested in Niandra Lades And Usually Just A T-shirt, an album that many would not call music but just fetid noise. His time in isolation and drugs was a chosen path. This was due not to the typical debauchery of rock stardom, but to a genuine interest in the effects drugs would have on his creativity when his mind and body inevitably started to deteriorate. Whether this is inspirational or foolhardy is yours to decide, but whenever I listen to his music I’m always aware that this is a man not releasing to please any given audience; rather his music serves as a medium to express himself without restriction and without any care to its reception. This is applaudable and, considering the depth of the man, I’m always eager to follow.

More often than not I have liked his albums, with several starring in my all-time favourites. To Record Only Water For Ten Days sounds quite scratchy and lo-fi, but is incredibly bright and reminiscent of all trips in the sun. In Frusciante’s own words, it “was one of the happiest times in my life”. Yet the warmth that I felt in this album, alongside Shadows Collide With People, Curtains, The Empyrean, and to a lesser degree PBX, has not quite been recreated with Frusciante’s latest release.

Opening track, Shining Desert, begins with a synth noise you’d expect a Mothercare 5+ keyboard to make. For me, it strangely depicted some kind of march down a psychiatry ward. A fast break beat kicks in at the halfway mark and contributes to the strange whirl of Frusciante’s inaudible moaning. The mainstay of the keyboard gives the track stability with what sounds like organ synths and other experimentation in the background. All of the sounds are kept unproduced and sound like some vile 1980s plastic toy sound effect; while intriguing to begin with they ultimately lead towards discomfort. It’s all quite instrumentally busy, but busy without any direction - kind of like a limp orgy. Odd drum patterns will follow grimy guitar solos and then be mixed into one another.

Sleep was a little better. The vocals rise and fall and act as the fulcrum for the song, sounding ‘Praise the Lord’ gospel inspired. Yet this track is again inundated with messy experimentation that makes it difficult to focus on any one thing. Around 8.48 he sings like a platypus dying a grisly death, but this is simultaneously covered with calmer vocals. The ecstasy of the drum n’bass track never quite dies down, anchoring this contrast. A lot of the drum patterns on this album sound like one of those cheap illegal field raves near Bolton. The DJs are called Danny and Brad with stage names like Skillz For Peace ft. Little Fucker and playing family classics like Hoist That Ass.

Run seemed to go nowhere. Frusciante just seemed stuck in indecision as the song resonated some kind of anger, but a mild anger like that of a sulking child. This was very much a low point and to me seemed to be filler. A more successful attempt is cohesively imagined in Stage. The gloss of drum n’ bass is taken off but it’s a still a heavy break beat track which has a Hendrix-esque guitar solo that oscillates over the top. At the start of Fanfare I laughed a little bit; it sounded to me like the soundtrack they’d give to the obligatory wedding episode of an American TV drama. Yet after this opening it was again neutral and didn’t really move me in any way. This one sounded heavily influenced by Depeche Mode.

Cinch and Zone seemed a kind of a Brian Eno-style endeavour. It’s rooted in ambience with Frusciante translating it well into a hardcore electronic track; it reminded me of the way that Mars Volta songs drift into 4 minutes of haze before coming back to tangibility. The spasms of erratic drums actually worked quite well, and it subtly pushed the song into new dimensions rather than sounding indulgent and unnecessary like on other tracks.

The final two tracks have less of the cacophony of break beats, unfortunately where they do emerge the creation is ruined. On Crowded, when the vocals and bass reach a trough that the listener can pause in, a frantic break beat is unleashed and destroys the satisfying calm. This was like a trip-hop ballad but with none of the consistency of the drum patterns of say, Massive Attack. The change in pace created by the drums is interesting, but these moments of interest are only intermittent beneath frustration.

All in all it seems an album aimed at experimentation rather than songwriting. If you were expecting something melodic along the lines of the Chilli Peppers then this album is not for you. Perhaps the percussion was recorded completely separately with no knowledge of the record at all, and then just layered over it. Such is the mess of several tracks. Having said this, I did enjoy Cinch, and this served as the highlight on the album for me. Given a couple of weeks I’m sure this review would be a lot more positive. I’m always hesitant of criticising the man that is Frusciante, and I do appreciate the Avant Garde slant he has tried to put on electronica here. However, this creation is a blend of genres that could either be branded as progressive or just plain shit.