I finally did it. I finally picked up what is now the crown jewel of my album collection, John Frusciante’s Smile From the Streets You Hold. It was released in 1997 on Birdman Records and was taken off the market in 1999 by the guitarist himself upon his re-joining of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He has since admitted the album was released to fuel the drug habit that almost ended his life.
My trek to get the album took me to eBay. I’m not an on-line kind of person, but when every record store you go to in New York can’t get it then your options in life are limited. I actually got a great deal on the album considering its worth. It just came in the mail today (Wednesday) after winning an auction on Monday. With my aversion to downloading illegally (pretty much the only way to get the album besides YouTube rips), I bought it and have listened to it straight through.
Now, I have to admit I am biased in that Frusciante is among my favourite artists. To review this album is a chore in that way. If you took a random person off the street and played them this album, they would hate it. It’s a true look into the depths of a dying man, no other way to describe it. If you know about his drug addiction going into the album and can stomach some gut wrenching screeches and howls disguised as vocals mixed with a heavy dose of “What the fuck did I just hear?” then you might be able to find enjoyment out of this album.
For me, enjoyment isn’t the right word. To me, this album brings me to another level of the mind and spirit. Not in a good way as sharing moments with your Dad as you celebrate the love and light of life. This also doesn’t bring me to the depths of Hell, even though it’s obvious it’s where Frusciante was during the recording of this album. It transports me to a place where all those feelings intersect. “Enter A Uh” sounds like a man who is literally one tourniquet and needle away from certain death, but a song like “Smile From The Streets You Hold” is oddly comforting. It’s comforting because you can really see that even in all the misery of what he was going through, Frusciante still had enough sense of who he was to create a avant-garde piece of art that goes from a psychedelic backward guitar-effects driven song into a glimpse into the soul of a person who lost his teeth/suffered permanent scars on his arms and literally almost died before recovering into the land of the living.
I’ll put it to you this way…the vocals are grating at best, literally unlistenable at worst. The guitar work is quite good on the songs recorded before he became a total junkie…after it barely qualifies as anything coherent.
If you’re looking for a nice quiet listen devoid of emotion and feeling…stay away. If you’re looking for another Frusciante record such as anything post-2000…stay away.
Yet if you’re looking to be transported to another level of the mind, to a place where it’s not the actual music that matters, it’s the emotion and feeling…THEN attempt this album. It’s a ride to depths that if you’re unprepared to experience, your personal emotions may get the better of you. It’s a hell of a ride, for better or worse.
Is it good? Hard to say. As I’ve mentioned, from a musical standpoint, it’s inconsistent, leaning heavily toward being a horrible album with very few high points. From an emotional standpoint, I don’t think I have ever heard an album that toyed with my emotions such as this one. It made me introspective and made me examine who I am. That’s not an understatement. The 60 minutes of Smile from the Streets You Hold will change your life. If it doesn’t you simply don’t have a soul.