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Water muse surfaces
By KIERAN GRANT -- Toronto Sun
Saturday, February 17, 2001

Seeing the line-up that snaked its way out of the Horseshoe and up the Queen Street sidewalk Tuesday night, it was tough not to wonder which of those Red Hot Chili Peppers diehards would last through the free solo turn by the band's guitarist, John Frusciante.

For as he proved once again with the Tuesday release of new his solo album, To Record Only Water For Ten Days, Frusciante is a musician of two distinct personalities.

He's adept at harnessing the Chili Peppers' unbridled jock-funk on stage and on record, kicking in necessary texture and edge in the process. His much-fabled absence from the band between 1992 and 1998 did critical damage to their creative output, and his return was greeted with a collective sigh of relief from bandmates and fans alike.

But take him away from singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, and drummer Chad Smith and a very different muse takes over -- one that simply doesn't have the Chili Peppers' target audience in mind.

"It's not because I'm not a big part of the Chili Peppers, it's because I have two musical lives," Frusciante said. "If Anthony or Flea made solo records, it wouldn't sound anything like the Chili Peppers. That's a sound that's made by four equal parts that blend together to create an identity. The way we write is completely democratic and selfless. It's no single vision.

"I've been writing songs since I was 11. My record has a lot to do with my growth as a songwriter since then. In the Chilis, it has to do with my growth as a guitar player."

Frusciante wrote To Record Only Water while touring with the Chilis between November 1999 and April 2000.

It was recorded at home on digital gear, and comes on like a lo-fi combo of a bass-less Joy Division and spliff-less Tricky, full of plaintive melody, chordant guitar, frosty keyboards, and a drum machine that sounds like a steam engine.

An uncanny vocal similarity to Bob Mould (Huesker Due, Sugar) has been pointed out, though Frusciante never noticed it before.

Just as it's hard to equate the guitarist who supplied riffage on Blood Sugar Sex Magic with the songwriter who laid down the stark, moody electro-dirges on To Record Only Water, Frusciante doesn't look much like the man who went AWOL from a massive rock band amid stories of personal unravelling.

The Biblical-looking scruff of recent years is gone. He's nicely decked out in a sharp sweater, pressed pants, and out-grown Caesar haircut that goes rather well with haunted eyes and a boxer's nose.

He talks openly about spirits and the voices in his head that, after he thought he'd laid down his guitar for the last time, convinced him to make a proper record. There were two previous solo albums, sure -- 1994's Niandres Les And Usually Just A T-Shirt and '97's Smile From The Streets Hold You. Those were unhinged collections of sound ("unsuccessful attempts at recording," he says) that were still impressive in their weirdness.

"When you haven't done anything for as long as I hadn't, you just want to show that you still exist," he says.

"Then, during a conversation in my head, the voice revealed what this album would be. It said, 'Think of your body as a tape recorder, and record only water for 10 days.'

"If you were to record the sound of water and play it back, it would fill the air with positive ions because water is the symbol of life. That's the feeling I wanted to create."

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