Review Summary: A challenging record that never gets into its stride
So what does PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone Actually Mean? If we take these words literally, it basically alludes to a finely designed counter balanced internal communication system. Huh? …This is either genius or utter bull***. Has Frusciante’s latest departure from the Chili Peppers made him even stranger than his reclusive period in the early 1990’s? Don’t get me wrong; I am massive fan of all things Frusciante, from the early lo-fi psychedelic charm of Niandra Lades to neo-prog madness of his Mars Volta work. Pre-album hype for PBX garnered attention among music press and fans alike when in March, Omar Rodriguez Lopez of Mars Volta fame claimed that John was working on something ‘epic’. A hype compounded in July 2012 when the Letur-Lefr EP was released creating a sound which managed to be both weirdly erratic and astoundingly beautiful. Synthesizers, (though nothing new in a Frusciante solo album) break beats and even rapping courtesy of RZA seemed to herald a new era for the sometime Chili Pepper member.
Sadly, all is not well in the PBX camp right from the opening track, Intro/ Sabam which opens with disjointed piano keys, screaming and backwards vocals makes the listener feel intimidated from the outset. The sunny synth-pop of Letur-Lefr has been thrown away for a far more surreal and progressive soundscape. The sophomore track, Hear Say doesn’t paint a better picture either, Frusciante mumbles some generic vocals, while chiptune electronic sounds come to the foreground; it’s a mess, only highlighted in the songs midpoint with contains the most dreary and pointless electronic sounds (probably) ever put on vinyl. Bike does improve matters only so slightly; Frusciante sings in his falsetto “I want- I’ve being searching”. Guess even the guitar god himself is searching for inspiration to sort out what is rapidly turning out to be a sinking disaster. This moment finally comes eight minutes into the album with the astonishingly good Ratiug, opening with shock, horror, a Guitar! Gentle programmed drumbeats and the odd dubstep wobble build up to a melodic chorus, which for the first time allows the listener to connect, “And you can have, you can have my face right now”. In Ratiug, it is possible to see Frusciante’s intent on combining electronica with guitar finesse with a splash of quirkiness. Ratiug concludes with some rapping courtesy of Kinetic 9, which rather oddly serves as a perfect ending to the albums centerpiece.
The tracks following Ratiug fall back into the Frusciante’s unlistenable electronic abyss, Guitar is a semi-decent instrumental, but it doesn’t hold a candle to previous solo Frusciante instrumentals such as Before the Beginning or Murderers. Mistakes is a somewhat catchy and upbeat if busy tune, while Sum is a beautiful ending to the album, marred once again by programmed drums which mar with the natural subject and dynamics of the song.
PBX is perhaps one of the most peculiar albums I have ever experienced. On one hand I welcome Frusciante’s amazing ability to stand right out of his comfort zone and create an album, which practically creates a genre for itself, following in the footsteps of Captain Beefheart. While on the other what has been created is on the whole an uncomfortable listen, sounds seem to have been thrown in to the mix just for the sake of creating something different, nothing seems to gel whether it be the cohesion of the album as a whole or the soundscape created by each individual track.