Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante has created with his latest release the type of quality album that truly displays his wealth of musical talent: Shadows Collide With People. After three albums of pandering to drug-induced guitar riffs and incoherent love ballads, Frusciante is finally showing the intangibles that make him one of the most respected guitarists in the world and an important member of the Peppers and their trademark Southern California funk-rock sound.
Frusciante’s biggest contribution to the Peppers, besides his guitar style, is his natural sense of melody. While this album is not nearly as concerned with a catchy chorus as a typical Peppers disc, Frusciante’s knack for melody is evident in the album’s highlight track, “Song to Sing When I’m Lonely.” The simply strummed harmonious tune stands as the album’s lone song, with commercial potential as a chart-topper. Although it does not have a chorus, the song as a whole is catchy and refrains from the drug and religious references found on nearly every other track on the album.
Shadows’ other key tracks include “Carvel,” “Omission,” “Wednesday’s Song” and “Cut Out.” After a minute and a half of what sounds like a confused primate playing with a synthesizer, the album’s opening song, “Carvel,” plays in. With the exception of Frusciante providing vocals, this song sounds exactly like a Peppers hit. “Omission” probably stands as the album’s purest rock song, while “Wednesday’s Song” and “Cut Out” are commendable So-Cal rock songs.
Frusciante joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an 18-year-old fan shortly after guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a drug overdose. After the band’s rise to fame upon the release of Bloodsugarsexmagik, he quit the band in 1992, citing that the Peppers’ sound was straying away from unique identity and that he had too much respect for their previous work to continue to tarnish it. Fame and drugs also took a toll on Frusciante as he went on a temporary musical hiatus and then released three unsuccessful solo albums before finally rejoining the Peppers for their 1998 multi-platinum release Californication. Frusciante continues to enjoy success with the Peppers today, as 2002’s By the Way enjoyed critical and commercial acclaim.
Musically, all of the songs on Shadows Collide With People could easily be Peppers tracks if Anthony Kiedis were singing the lyrics. However, these songs wouldn’t sound right laced with Kiedis’ funk raps, which is probably why Frusciante kept them for this creative and mostly funk-free outlet. With the exception of the vocals, this is basically a Peppers concept album. Peppers drummer Chad Smith provides the percussion, while bassist Flea plays on several tracks. Friend Josh Klinghoffer provides back-up vocals and also plays the guitar on a few songs. While Frusciante is not the singer Kiedis is, he has improved since his first album and presents a decent voice.
While Shadows provides one phenomenal tune and four respectable ones, the rest of the album provides ample evidence that Frusciante, in the past and perhaps still, engages in some heavy drug use. Of the 13 other tracks, three of them sound like throwaways from the Radiohead album Kid A. While flashes of brilliance occasionally persist in the other 10 tracks, they for the most part range from mediocre and boring to unpractical.
An album worth listening to from start to finish is truly rare and, overall, five out of 18 is not bad in the record business. Look for “A Song to Sing When I’m Lonely” on your radio dial, as its catchy appeal will surely find a soft spot in the hearts of rock fans across the country. Shadows Collide With People is a solid listen for the casual rock fan and a must for the avid Peppers follower.