Review Summary: all that is here will be sunlight
If last year’s PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone
taught us anything, it’s that John Frusciante is essentially done with rock music. Pop though? Not so much. At its core, buried under the layers of bleeps, bloops, and scattershot drumbeats, were six or seven very good pop songs. Outsides
is the natural evolution of that sound, seeing Frusciante pick up where he left off on PBX
and delving even deeper into the world of electronic music, in the process completely abandoning any semblance of pop norms or traditional songwriting structures.
This isn’t necessarily to say that Outsides
is an inaccessible record; indeed, the angel choir and bass groove in opener ‘Same’ are as infectious as they are bizarre, inviting the listener into the weird and wonderful space within. Let’s talk about ‘Same’ for a moment: a hypnotic ten minute instrumental epic home to a guitar solo which owes far more to the dissonant madness of Robert Fripp than older influences such as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Bernard Sumner. There is something inherently thrilling in hearing Frusciante go over the edge this way as he chops, changes, and shreds with reckless abandon. This is JF on top form, nailing the perfect balance of synths, grooves, and guitar to create something special. Where the EP stumbles is ‘Breathiac’, a short yet disruptive instrumental piece which targets the brain rather than the heart and ends up falling flat. It would be unfair to pin this on the lack of vocals - some of the most emotionally affecting songs in this discography are instrumentals (‘Ramparts’, ‘With Love’, ‘Falling’ et al.
) – moreso it seems to be flaunting some form of complex rhythmic theory (or something) and ultimately fails as a listenable composition. This area of production is where Frusciante still has much room for improvement. The ideas are there but lacking finesse, too often slipping into ham-fisted Aphex Twin worship.
Now that may seem harsh, but it’s a misstep easily forgiven when backed up with a track like ‘Shelf’. This here is the true gem of the record and is exactly the sort of song that vindicates Frusciante on this sometimes questionable venture of his. Without getting into tedious details, suffice to say you’ll get three minutes of fun danceable jammy goodness before abruptly changing gear into full-blown Fruphoria™ mode where everything just clicks
. Beats, grooves, choirs and synths all come together over a gorgeous chord progression to elevate the listener to that next level before fading out and making you hit replay again and again and again.
What we’ve got here is yet another worthy addition to this fine discography. A disjointed, messy, occasionally frustrating yet ultimately rewarding listen. What it lacks in cohesion and polish is redeemed by those familiar flashes of JF brilliance which are again, at long last, occurring with greater and greater frequency. After a dozen or so spins I can’t help but feel that John is on the cusp of something truly great here. Outsides
may be just a stepping stone, but it’s a pretty damn good one.