“You don’t throw your time away
The cover art for To Record Water For Ten Days is oblique and mysterious, quite utilitarian in its simplicity; it brings to mind the design of This Heat‘s album cover, stark primary colors and little expression or implication of the music contained within. In this sense, this works both for and against the record – I’d been a casual Frusciante appreciator ever since I heard Shadows Collide With People back in my teens (ironically, because I liked the cover art), and gave his earlier avant/psych-folk meanderings a shot (It’s worth noting I seriously considered reviewing Smile from the Streets You Hold over this, but again couldn’t find the right words I feel describe my connection to that record. Another day.) and it never really stuck then, but those records are to be discussed another day.
To Record Only Water bursts out of the gates with “Going Inside,” shining with a newfound soberity and confidence, all chiming jangle pop riffs and an incendiary guitar solo(?) that somehow manages to sound like a wailing human voice and a guitar at once, and follows as a sort of mission statement and introduction to the record’s head space.
The lyrics on the record vary in subject matter, but are consistently oblique, touching, and full of ghostly soul, and speak of redemption, personal psychedelia, melancholy, love and loss.
As you progress through the record, Frusciante’s impressive variety in songwriting becomes evident with the touching ballad “The First Season” and the plaintive, spacious (no pun intended) “Wind Up Space,” the gorgeous guitar-fireworks-lite of “Ramparts” (the only instrumental on the record along with “Murderers”) and the catchy, single-worthy “Away & Anywhere,” which has one of my favorite refrains on the album. The tracklist is substantial yet short and sweet, with the same dusty, gorgeous atmosphere flowing from beginning to end but never losing the listener’s interest.
I guess it’s worth mentioning I’ve also never really been a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan; I can always get behind the indie rock and psychedelia informed narcotic jams on By the Way or the more melodic cuts on Californication if I’m in the right mood, but pretty much nothing else has ever stuck with me for a number of reasons – mainly that I dislike both lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis’ delivery and lyrics 90% of the time. It’s not really a matter of malice, it’s just never something that appealed to me in my youth so I have not the connection to them many I know do. That changed with my recent revisits to Frusciante’s often incredible but sometimes confounding solo music.
Interestingly it was said at the time that John’s biggest influence writing this material was 1980s synthpop and post-punk bands who did their own synth programming such as Depeche Mode, Talk Talk, New Order, etc. While it does show in the charmingly off-beat use of clanking drum machines and light synthesizer textures (even a few song structures), I definitely wouldn’t use those bands as a buoy by which to explain how this record sounds. The sound is pretty singular and unlike pretty much anything the man has done before or since – an eclectic enough oevure spanning grunge to IDM that I’d definitely like to do a retrospective writeup on it sometime.
Frusciante has stated during the creation of this record and By the Way he felt very connected to the spirit world and had numerous, frequent visions of spirits while writing; the title of the record comes from a picture of his body as a tape recorder that records water for ten days to ‘purify’ himself and allow for the deepest form of expression through sound and poetry. When I first heard this record, it was at the beginning of an early morning binge starting with Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt all while I was coming down off a strong LSD experience, and I honestly cannot think of a more perfect scenario in which I could’ve heard his music – not to imply drugs are necessary to enjoy anything, but with what I was going through in my personal life and the intense empathy I still felt it put me in the perfect space to learn to love his music.
This is a beautiful, haunting, redemptive pop record worthy of not only Frusciante’s musical legacy, but also a permanent spot in my heart and musical rotation.