Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt
For those not familiar with John Frusciante’s solo work, yes, you read that album title correctly. Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt is the former Red Hot Chili Peppers’ debut solo album. Originally, it was recorded as two separate works: Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt, but Frusciante decided to go ahead and smush the two together to create one mega 25-track album. And for those not familiar with John Frusciante’s past history with heroin, be warned, this album is not for those with pretentious eardrums. Later admitting that this album was primarily created in order to generate money to fuel his drug habit, Frusciante bares his soul on this lo-fi attempt at “stream of consciousness” writing. I’m not sure I would necessarily term it “avant-garde” like so many are quick to do, but it sure is different.
The Niandra Lades half of this album includes a mixed bag of experimental work and forgettable rants. But hey, with titles like “Your Pussy’s Glued to a Building on Fire,” who needs catchy hooks? As I said before, these songs aren’t written in the traditional pop/rock song format. The day you catch any of these tracks on even a college radio station is the day hell freezes over. However, it does make for great documentation of Frusciante’s fall from grace shortly after the release of RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. One gets the feeling that there is a lot of pain on this album. Frusciante moans and squeals and wails and contorts his voice in ways that would make Lil Wayne jealous.
One of the highlights that I found on this half is “My Smile Is a Rifle,” which includes a little of that strained, overdriven guitar work that made Frusciante famous. His voice meanders all over the place, starting normally, jumping to falsetto, and then jumping up another octave into a screech before starting the process all over again. “My smile is a rifle and I’m pointing it at you,” says Frusciante. “Running Away Into You” sounds like someone was messing around with the fast-forward and looping buttons over and over again. The effect is a spacey, tripped-out underwater feeling. “Head (Beach Arab)” almost sounds like a disturbing lullaby written by a madman, which gets gradually more and more out of control toward the end.
And then there is the Usually Just a T-Shirt half. “Untitled #2” features an entirely backwards-playing lead section, which makes for some interesting sounds. “Untitled #8” features some hideous laughter, moaning, and… animal noises? “Untitled #12” has Frusciante switching songs twice in the beginning before deciding on what he wants to play.
One might compare Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt to the likes of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy; its highly dissonant, often atonal tracks will more than likely put off a lot of listeners. But if you’re like me and bought this album for a closer look into the human psyche, you might just be pleasantly surprised.
John Frusciante: johnfrusciante.com