Having dropped out of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (temporarily, as it later transpired) in the middle of a ’92 Japanese tour, guitarist John Frusciante withdrew further, but did manage to home-record an album called Niandra Lades, which went unreleased until it became half of this 24-track CD, preceding a dozen untitled numbers collected under the title Usually Just a T-Shirt. Despite the detached Syd Barrett trappings, Frusciante’s ramblings are not only surprisingly listenable but stand right up there with 1994’s best lo-fi recordings, although possibly the only such indulgence released on a major label.
Sung in a wavery falsetto over a couple of guitar tracks or piano, Niandra Lades‘ sketchy demo-quality material is flighty and stream-of-consciousness-driven, variously wistful (the Bad Brains’ “Big Takeover,” with mandolin and what sounds like tabla; “Been Insane”), hair-raising (“Blood on My Neck From Success”) and nothing but weird (“Head [Beach Arab],” “Ten to Butter Blood Voodoo,” “Your Pussy’s Glued to a Building on Fire”). Sample lyric, from “Curtains”: “You’ve all been always there/Your head shaped like a pear/You search through the lights/Instead of jumped in the pie/Of life that you sliced/Til it’s just right.” But “Mascara” is a semi-eloquent ballad, and Frusciante’s compositional skill is deft and soulful in its own singular way. The album’s other half, however, is more compelling. Frusciante seldom lets lyrics clutter the musical, er, vision, and lots of gorgeous, backward guitar pours forth. Many of these tracks are gentler and more atmospheric and, more than Niandra Lades, slip effortlessly between lucidity and madness, reaffirming the sometimes-tragic, real and slender line between the two.