The RHCP’s Secret Ingredient: Frusciante’s Voice
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
I don’t think I’m the only person who was completely stoked when the Chili Peppers announced John Frusciante was joining the band again. No offense to Josh Klinghoffer, who proved to be an amazing replacement, making two solid albums with the band and who is a great guitarist in his own right. The fact is, the Chili Peppers are simply at their best when they have Frusciante. Now, obviously adding one of the greatest guitar players is going to make a band better but I think a secret ingredient he brings to the table, that often goes unrecognized, is his voice.
Clearly the backing vocals aren’t the first thing you listen for on a track, nor are they probably the second, third or four. The Chili Pepper’s sound, routed in punk, led the group to use more of a chanting style of backing vocals when you listen to those first three albums before Frusciante joined the band. It worked perfectly with the vocal style of Anthony Kiedis that is both rap and rock and fits the funky element that is the other true base element of the Chili Pepper’s music. Also, being a band that created songs through the jam, led to a more aggressive, fast-paced style of music that didn’t require the harmonies and melody but it also made them more one dimensional in those early days. Still staying true to those elements of punk and funk, the incorporation of Frusciante into the band led to a much simpler, yet melodic sound. This is where the voice of Frusciante plays such a key role because he is able to fill the choruses with a separate, higher-pitched melody which allows the Chili Peppers to make much different sounding songs.
What is interesting to see is the development of the use of Frusciante as a vocalist as he grew to be a more integral part of the band. With his first album, Mother’s Milk, it is hardly even notable because his vocals are mostly used in a minimal punk-rock style of chanting that was similar to what they’d done before but even by the follow-up album he was already making a larger impact. Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik was transformative in more than one way for the Chili Pepper’s so it would be completely ridiculous to attribute their rise in success to the fact that they allowed Frusciante to sing some harmonies but it should be noted that this album expanded upon that funk-punk sound into to one with much larger variety and songs like “If You Have To Ask” and “The Righteous & the Wicked” showcased this new realm Frusciante was able to bring to the band’s sound with not just his guitar but also his voice. What’s most notable though is that his harmonies on “Under The Bridge” are basically drown out by his mother who is also featured on this song and is a classically trained singer herself, proving, if anything, that it’s basically in his genes to sing these high pitched tones but the reality is the Chili Peppers were just finding something on this album that would later be expanded upon.
Now, there were obviously some years between Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik and Californication and I’m not positive that there is any correlation, but the sound of the Chili Pepper’s seems to transform into to a much more melodic pop style from the hardcore punk songs that the group was initially founded upon. I’ll concede, an album starting off with a track like “Around the World” doesn’t exactly scream melodic pop but even on this track you hear the high-pitched vocals of Frusciante giving it the subtle flavor required to make it a great track, like the cherry on top of a Sunday. This only becomes more apparent with songs like “Scar Tissue” and “Californication” where Frusciante’s voice is necessary to add different layers to the songs. By The Way, as an album, only goes on to exemplify this even more with songs like “This Is the Place”, “The Zephyr Song” and “Can’t Stop” all having harmonies very key to overall sound, filling them to a degree that gave those albums the sound that the Chili Peppers became famous for.
By 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, Frusciante’s voice had become such an integral part of the band’s sound that it’s part of practically every song, starting with “Dani California” to other fast paced tracks like “Snow (Hey Oh)” and “Tell Me Baby” where you hear his voice ring out in support of Kiedis’ and you can hear the band firing on all cylinders. It’s on the tamer tracks like “Slow Cheetah” and “Wet Sand” that you see the Chili Pepper take on a new realm to their sound. Even more so with songs like “Desecration Smile” and “Strip My Mind” where Frusciante has alternating lyrics with Kiedis and you see them wander into what could almost be considered a pop band. Somehow, the Chili Peppers are still able to pull it off without losing that signature that gives them an authentic flavor and we are only treated to an even more diverse sound without it feeling cheesy or put on.
It should definitely be noted that John Frusciante has a legitimately successful solo career in which his crooning can be fully enjoyed and look no further than “The Past Recedes” and “Song To Sing When I’m Lonely” to know that he truly has a special voice. The point here is that his voice almost seamlessly blends into the songs and style of the Chili Peppers that it has become as important to their sound as almost anything. While they may only be backing vocals, the way he is able to use them to offset the style of Kiedis has allowed the band to develop other areas of their sound and make different kinds of music. Rumor has it they have a new album in the works and I think it’s safe to be skeptical with fifteen years since their last album with Frusciante but it’s hard not to get excited for this reuniting, especially knowing the voice of an angel they are about to have back.