“It makes me feel so good to connect this music with people.” John Frusciante sat on a stool with only his guitar and an audience of what couldn’t have been more than a few hundred. As he played the tender opening verse of The Will to Death’s “The Days Have Turned,” fans in the front rows of an elated crowd reached their hands towards the stage, closing the distance between audience and artist. The Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist closed his eyes and shook his head, mouth agape in a spiritual ecstasy.

Frusciante’s show at the 2005 All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival would turn out to be the only live performance of most of his material from the previous year, marking a rare moment of connection between the reclusive artist and his fans. The Will to Death holds a similar place in John’s solo discography. Raw and vulnerable, the record is by far his most welcoming, holding our hands with straightforward songwriting and instrumentation as Frusciante encourages us to join him in finding peace with his fears and insecurities. This vulnerability is the “death” in The Will to Death, which Frusciante defines as an artist’s drive to approach death in order to live: “One comes close to death, and not only does he not die, but he lives more fully for having had the experience.”

The Will to Death shines in its ability to balance such opposing forces. John laments “there was a time when all was empty” on the epic “Loss,” which adds ghostly keys à la “Fake Plastic Trees” as it builds to a euphoric climax, the record’s liveliest moment. He yearns for connections he can’t forge on the melancholy “Unchanging,” legato chords and staccato picking playing call and response in harmony as Frusciante’s invitingly clear voice sings “I’ve never been up where I see the others climb/ Seems like it must be nice.” In a struggle to maintain his identity, he reminds himself that “life changes, not you” as the uplifting mood of “Wishing” shifts to a somber but clear-headed resolution. John’s vocals on “Far Away” only play in the right channel, displaced but close by our side.

Such mixing is the most unconventional aspect of The Will to Death. The descending arpeggios of opener “A Doubt” only play in the right ear, the somber riff of “The Days Have Turned” in the left. This has the intimate effect of placing us directly in the studio with John and puts the album’s human flaws on full display. It’s a stunning realization of Frusciante’s approach to making an album which he describes as “a celebration of flaws.” The songs were recorded in only a few takes as John and fellow Chili Peppers member Josh Klinghoffer surrendered to the “flow of energy” and let “the music go where it pleases.” By embracing flaws and surrendering control, Frusciante achieved his “own kind of perfection.”

Nowhere is this captured better than on the album closing title track. Preceded by the gorgeous instrumental “Helical,” “The Will to Death” in Frusciante’s mission statement. Supported by a heartbeat drum, the guitarist’s relaxed strumming plays in the left channel while his lullaby singing plays in the right. John sings “The will to death is what keeps me alive/ It’s one step away, step away,” and the song and album ends with a blissful guitar solo. In his abandonment of perfectionism for natural flaws and raw acknowledgement of fears and insecurities, Frusciante achieves life in its purest form by approaching death. This is the will to death.

The Will to Death is certainly one of John Frusciante’s subtler releases. Shadows Collide with People is catchier, Inside of Emptiness rocks out way harder and The Empyrean is far more epic. But The Will to Death stands out as John’s masterpiece, crafting a profoundly intimate statement on the nature of distance and connection, flaws and perfection, and life and death.

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