A record that is far too odd to be associated with the sound of Nineties-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, guitarist John Frusciante's Niandra LaDes And Usually Just A T-Shirt first dropped in 1994 after John had left the band. Consisting of recordings Frusciante recorded on the side during sessions with the Peppers in 1992 or so, the album, now served up in a fine vinyl reissue from Superior Viaduct, is one of the boldest bits of alt-rock to see mainstream release in that decade. Judged now, with 23 years' worth of hindsight, it seems even more radical and visionary.
Some of these cuts are what we'd now term lo-fi ("Running Away Into You"), while others are littered with the trappings of Sixties rock like "My Smile is a Rifle", and the lyrical "Head (Beach Arab)", a winner in spite of its unfortunate title. Even a stab at a harDCore standard from Bad Brains turns into something vaguely psychedelic, as Frusciante here wraps "Big Takeover" up in warm vocals and languid guitars. The nice "Mascara" bears a faint similarity to a few numbers from Jane's Addiction, while the lovely "Curtains" sees Frusciante take to the piano with a melody that recalls Syd Barrett even as his vocals are throatier and more ragged. Niandra LaDes And Usually Just A T-Shirt ends with a full 13 untitled instrumental cuts that serve as a sort of separate record from the first half we've just heard.
Wildly inventive and yet strictly focused within its unique set of stylistic conventions, Niandra LaDes And Usually Just A T-Shirt is a fine record that sounds absolutely nothing like anything from Red Hot Chili Peppers. A listener now can understand why John Frusciante was not going to be a permanent member of that band. Instead, he was given his freedom and that allowed him to release this affecting bit of business, alt-rock that skirts the very edges of the accessible.
Niandra LaDes And Usually Just A T-Shirt is out now via Superior Viaduct.
[Photo: Karen Miller]