I dunno how Flea does it. When he’s not being Michael Balzary and father to Clara and Sunny he spends his downtime as a member of famous supergroups (hello: Atoms For Peace). His day job also means he does hand-stands (both literal and aural) for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And somewhere in between (sources say back in 2007) he managed to find time to record the debut solo EP, Helen Burns (one that has only just been released).

This six-track collection was recorded with the RHCP drum tech and keyboardist, Chris Warren; RHCP drummers present and past, Chad Smith and Jack Irons, respectively; and punk princess Patti Smith (who also co-wrote and sings on the title track). The EP title comes from the character of the same name in the classic novel, Jane Eyre. But anyone thinking this indulgent side project is going to sound like Flea’s work with the Chilli Peppers or classical music in general (due to the namesake) had better guess again.

By his own admission, this record is Flea’s “weird” and “arty” one (think a little like Damon Albarn’s Dr. Dee). It’s a trippy and ambient affair where progressive and psychedelic styles (read: strange noise) are offered up in droves. Lyrics are scant (as some tracks are instrumental) and there are one too many twists and turns to call this “accessible” or worthy of more attention than just one or two cursory spins.

‘333’ sets the scene with the first of many sound kaleidoscopes. It’s a busy number with more layers than an onion skin. These go from the hyper-manic to the spooky via some bubbles, fizz, beats, strings, some traditional piano and even a snake-charmer. The feeling is fast, skittish and at times rather anxious (where you could imagine one climbing up some high walls). It’s a different vibe altogether to the sparse flutter of ‘Pedestal of Infamy’ where the percussion is as light and as soft as a breath and the flute creates something rather mystical.

The title track sees Ms Smith in her element with fine, low vocals singing a sombre and sober tune about winter love. ‘333 Revisited’ is a left-turn yet again, because it is so synth-laden, it wouldn’t be out of place on a record by Depeche Mode or New Order. ‘Lovelovelove’ brings things to a close with the choir from the Silverlake Conservatory of Music (who will benefit from the proceeds of this single) offering up something both melodious and sweet.

Helen Burns may have been christened after a Charlotte Brontë character but it is actually more reflective of its mad scientist creator. The sounds are hyperactive (just like Flea) and they vary from the creative and perplexing to the inaccessible and grating in just under 27 minutes. This expansive sound may burn out and prevent numerous spins of the set, but Flea should be complimented for indulging his creative side. This was after all, a labour of love and an itch he clearly had to scratch.

Originally published on 24 March 2013 at the following website: http://thedwarf.com.au/album_review/flea-helen-burns-2

Visit The Dwarf’s homepage at: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/


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