Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt: Seldom do you get an album that is equal parts tragic, brilliant and awful. Though perhaps we should call it a double album since Niadra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt can be taken as two sides of a flipped coin. Niandra Lades the collection of depressed mournful ballads interspersed with the slight euphoric highs that occupy the days of a full blown junkie; and Usually Just a T-Shirt the other world that vulnerable people fall into when time becomes a meaningless concept. Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt A product of an allergic reaction to overnight fame, and an all consuming addiction to heroin (see video below), combined with the necessity that overwhelms the mind of an artist, how they feel when they see the colour of integrity change from an aura of proud vibrancy, and then silently fade to pale sallow polythene. The album captures the sound of desperation, a cold hand reaching out, clasping nothing but thin air. Most of it was recorded on a 4-track. To give the album a little bit of historical context, it was recorded either side of Blood Sugar Sex Magik when John Frusciante retreated into the shadows. He couldn’t handle the attention that was magnified tenfold onto the Red Hot Chili Peppers around the release of BSSM and after turning to drugs he soon quit the band mid tour, going his own way, attempting to rediscover his creativity. Instead of a journey of self discovery the album is a rollercoaster ride into the hell of addiction. There are other contributing factors, those who read Anthony Kiedis’ candid memoir Scar Tissue would be aware of the drug troubles in the band, serious enough to consume and destroy the man Frusciante replaced as lead guitarist Hillel Slovak. The rock and roll, rough and tumble LA lifestyle of success and excess is enough to consume anybody. Remarkably before he joined the band it has been documented the Frusciante was not a huge drinker and never touched drugs because he believed it would interfere with practicing the guitar. ‘As Can Be’ starts off Niandra Lades with a trademark Frusciante stroll along the fretboard, vocally it is naïve in the same vain as a Daniel Johnston ditty, only sexually explicit. ‘My Smile Is a Rifle’ has a more striking opening that compares well to some of his best work with the Chili Peppers, however the vocals are very much stream of conscious, veering from cat like screeches to monotone gibberish. ‘Head (Beach Arab) is the sound of falling snowdrops heard from Purgatory. A faithful cover of Bad Brains’ ‘Big Takeover’ removes all of the originals frantic energy and instead serves up a thrashing sitar freak-out that sounds like it callused Frusciante’s fragile fingertips. ‘Curtains’ tip toes over knife edge piano, captivating yet flawed. Pinnacle of incoherence ‘Running Away into You’ is a rewound tape ballad, tripping off the spool, unraveling, decidedly warped. ‘Mascara’ is despondent acoustic strums blurred into double tracked vocals. ‘Been Insane’ again is Daniel Johnstone-ish, a longing ballad that coos “I’ve been insane / Hope it doesn’t show”. ‘Skin Blues’ is an unspectacular acoustic blues instrumental that accelerates and blunts. ‘Your Pussy’s Glued to a Building on Fire’ with its Bukowski like title is blunt and primal manchild wallowing. ‘Blood on My Neck From Success’ is fatigued, rough, and cold red raw. ‘Ten to Butter Blood Voodoo’ ends the first half with unabashed cool licks. The second half of the album is a delirium, 13 untitled tracks that are faulty and transparent. Usually just a T-shirt is skittish, muddled, innocent, tentative, turning and twisting along tangents. It is here that we delve deep into the pit of addiction, drifting through different states of consciousness. I find this half hard to listen to, it is uncomfortable, an audio car crash of experimentation. I think Frusciante’s intentions were to be deliberately experimental, his own private reaction to predictable mainstream music. At that point pre-internet, the music industry was soulless and bloated; his own band had gone from being loose and fun loving to the early incantation of a radio friendly stadium filling rock behemoth. For a young man with punk ideals, the concept of mainstream success was hard to get used to. Strangely despite being as high as a kite it is quite amazing that the mix and recording of the album is daring, innovative, and sounds intensely intimate. Niadra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt recalls the reclusive genius of Syd Barrett, as much as it paints the picture of the sad withdrawal of a junkie. The album is a document of degradation, just as masochistic and visceral as the work of Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. It is brutally real, self destructive, a statement that is both pathetic and brave, and almost impossible to fully understand.