For the average music lover or record collector, it's generally a torturous question to be asked to name your favourite ever record. Just one? How to pick? Which genres to ignore, how to weigh the myriad qualities of music against one another. Do you prize a record you have a personal connection with, over one that is simply more beautiful? Does the story by which you obtained the record play a part, or the time of your life in which you first heard it?
There are of course no right or wrong answers. For me, my favourite record is the one that I keep coming back to the most. Since it's (relatively recent) release, a mere ten years ago in 2004, I have quite literally lost count of the number of times I've listened to it, both on CD and vinyl. Yep, I bought it twice. That record is John Frusciante's The Will To Death.
For anyone asking "John who?", you'll probably be familiar with him as ex-guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, responsible for six-string on many of their best albums including Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication. Much lesser known and certainly much more eccentric, the prolific Frusciante has notched up twelve full length solo records and a host of EPs, with a thirteenth due in April. Nearly all are worth a listen, but that's another story.
The Will To Death proves an unusual record in that it starts strong and only gets stronger, with the final track being my favourite of all. In terms of production and aesthetic, it is to some extent the antithesis of a RHCP album, both lyrically and tonally; in place of radio friendly pop vocals and polished sheen you'll find oblique but poetic verses and a lo-fi, almost garage rock styling to the arrangements.
Frusciante's deliberately imperfect production combined with earnest and at times heart-breaking vocal performances give the album an honesty which many records lack. This is not the sound of a man sacrificing his integrity or looking to make a fast buck; this is a musical communication made for the sheer joy of expression and put out into the world with no flourish or pretentiousness.
John bares his soul over themes of identity, sorrow and death. Despite this though, the music retains an uplifting quality through the beauty of the instrumentation and the softness and conviction of the delivery. The passion thrown into the crescendo of 'A Loop' still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, as Frusciante cries out over and over the refrain; "I can't wait for life".
By the closing tracks, as the volume and complexity of the arrangements are dialled back, the quality of the analogue recording and mastering shines through. Disarmingly simple yet nuanced song writing defines the album through and through, with no better example than the heart aching title track The Will To Death. These twelve songs exemplify the old adage that less is more; if anyone needed proof of what can be done with little more than an electric guitar, they need look no further.
For those who want a little more, you can read about the album in the man's own words here.