Flea, ‘Helen Burns’ – Album Review
Is Flea the most excellent dude is rock? Probably. Is the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist’s debut EP ‘Helen Burns’ the most delightful surprise of the year? Certainly.
The album is named after, and dedicated to, a character in Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre.’ Helen is Jane’s faithful, compassionate best friend, one that left a mark on Flea. As he describes in the liner notes: “The beauty of the character Helen Burns is a quality I yearn for in all human beings, including, of course, myself.” He describes her as being “always present with me” and whose ideals “resonate in the deepest experiences of my life.”
As befits its muse, each of the six tracks has a deeply felt ambiance.
The opening ‘333’ gathers all free and jazzy for its first three minutes -- fitting for a bassist that got his start with the trumpet -- before, at three minutes in, an eruption of drum machines and electric guitars spew forth sonic explorations set against patient violins and 8-bit laser beams, making for a quizzically coherent collage, reimagined in ‘333’ later in the listen.
‘Pedestal of Infamy’ slithers and slinks with flutist grooves, a head nod lounger on the Flying Lotus tip. The 89 seconds of ‘A Little Bit of Sanity’ are stacked with frenetic keyboards and slow funky bass. The incomparable Patti Smith lends her voice to the title track, sketching out a somber narrative: “Her head high, her heart aflame / I’m in love with everything.” Intensely emotive, the track shows the depth of Flea’s craftsmanship.
The closing ‘Lovelovelove’ is as uplifting as its title suggests, with lingering synths and galactic guitar forming a primordial ooze which springs into a choir chorus of “We’re alive for a while, so let's love and that will be great, so let’s love everything away,“ joined by a jaunty harmonica -- evoking the sort of feeling best expressed by a waterfall of smiley emoticons.
What makes it all the more awesome is that Flea has released the digital edition as a pay what you will, from $0.00 to $500.00, with all the proceeds going to the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a Los Angeles music school that he founded with fellow Pepper Anthony Keatis. Literary, expansive, and for a good cause, Flea has made one hell of a record.