This week, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Josh Klinghoffer will present a new full-length project, This Is the Show, the third under the Pluralone pseudonym. Anyone expecting to hear less from the guitarist following his high profile split with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2019 has no doubt been rendered slack-jawed at the profusion of activity undertaken by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee over the past few years. Aside from his various extracurricular commitments, Klinghoffer has managed to produce a number of single and EP releases as Pluarlone, along with two full-length albums. He assumes the moniker once more for the release of This Is the Show.
Pluralone, as a concept, has never been explained in great detail. As with Foo Fighters or Tame Impala, one can only assume the decision to adopt the alias was motivated by personal and/or artistic instinct more so than marketing data or preconceptions of how receptive a listening public might be to such a choice. But it seems consistent with what we do know about Klinghoffer that he might want to continue his professional and artistic journey without the imposition of having his name garishly plastered on promotional material the world over.
The pseudonym also correlates with Klinghoffer’s presentation of himself, intentional or otherwise, as a figure that defies delineation. There’s an ambiguity to the way he conducts himself, and to the rhythmic, melodic, and even professional choices he makes, that can leave an observer with more questions than answers.
This equivocation is perhaps most evident in the music itself. Dating back to his early collaborations with John Frusciante and threading through his subsequent endeavors with Dot Hacker and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (among others,) Klinghoffer’s musical voice is one prone to darting in and out of shadows, fading into the ether and emerging once more, unchanged but somehow unmistakably different. Even the most musically adept listeners can get turned around attempting to follow the barrages of offbeats and (occasionally not so) subtle harmonic shifts in a sound that has been heavily informed by electronic music since long before the format’s explosion in popularity.
Given the gravity of the man’s artistic intent, it is befitting to his legacy that his body of work is more indicative of his own unique, creative vision than that of an already solidly established act. Though this hasn’t stopped the collaboratively-minded musician from informally joining Pearl Jam, contributing to Eddie Vedder’s latest solo album/tour along with former-Chili Peppers bandmate Chad Smith, and continuing to work with his Dot Hacker comrades.
Dot Hacker – an entity that has remained close to Klinghoffer’s heart since its ground-up formation in 2008 – released three albums during the guitarist’s time as a Red Hot Chili Pepper, in a collaboration that would continue following his departure. In fact, This Is the Show began life as the tentative fifth Dot Hacker LP and was ultimately produced by Dot Hacker guitarist Clint Walsh. Members of the group became separated, however, upon the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, largely leaving Klinghoffer to reckon with the material on his own.
One can hear shades of Dot Hacker throughout this latest offering, with many moments bringing to mind 2014’s How’s Your Process? (Play). Still, This Is the Show is indubitably a highly personal document. Evolving over the course of years through experimentation and shared analysis with Walsh, the album appears to encapsulate something which perhaps is too profoundly arcane for all but the most diminutive of comprehension by those looking in from the outside.
From the rise of the allegorical curtain on “The Fight for the Soul,” it is apparent that This Is the Show is a wholly immersive experience in and of itself, rather than a vehicle through which listeners are expected to attain perspective on their own situations by way of listening vicariously. Sonically, the album reads more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a Warhol piece, and as such, is a record that requires a certain suspension of the conventional understanding of pop music in order to be properly appreciated.
The Eric Gardner assisted opener fully feels like a welcoming into the singular world manifested with This Is the Show. The proceedings are informed heavily by electronic music, and listeners in the market exclusively for larger-than-life guitar work such as that displayed throughout Eddie Vedder’s Earthling may very well leave disappointed.
The record sees Klinghoffer further exploring his well-established avant garde proclivities, with heavy – and occasionally dissonant – synthesizers drifting into one another like colossal glaciers while the vocals weave in and out of surrounding elements, rendering the determination of where one element begins and another ends little more than a fool’s errand. This functions in service to the world-building of the album, however, disengaging with the impulse to dissect and intellectualize what is happening in the tracks is key to the effectiveness of the record.
The brainchild of a drummer who strapped on the six-string later in life, the Pluralone discography is rife with shifting rhythms and explorations of offbeat phrases morphing through eclectic passages. This Is the Show faithfully adheres to the trend, with tracks like “Elongate” and “Scape” playing tricks with the very foundation atop which they are actively being built. Conversely, the album-closer and delicate piano ballad, “Life Kills,” is uncharacteristically devoid of drums altogether. Opting instead to augment the piece with an understated cello contribution from Vanessa Freebairn-Smith (the album’s only contributor outside the Dot Hacker collective,) the track serves to punctuate the distinct musical evolution demonstrated throughout This Is the Show.
While wrapping one’s arms around the musical ideology of Pluralone can sometimes feel like tracking a phantom through a darkened warehouse, This Is the Show features more than its fair share of remarkably sincere and vulnerable offerings. Among the tracks in which such sentiments are discernable are lead-single “Claw Your Way Out,” as well as the painfully beautiful “Can’t Put the Bullet Back in the Gun.”
The latter explores the ever-evolving nature of relationship dynamics. Specifically, the track seems to address how certain decisions – good intentions notwithstanding – can inevitably, drastically, and irreversibly alter the nature of an association. Just as reassembling shards of broken glass is generally more painful than effective in restoring a shattered mirror to its former glory, sometimes apologies – and indeed, love itself – simply aren’t enough to make things as they once were. The aching, repeated refrain of “now it’s a new world that we’re living in” – while coasting on an undercurrent of grief, understanding, and reluctant acceptance of a current situation – seems hopeful in its acknowledgment of the potential for happiness going forward.
This is an idea that crops up frequently throughout This Is the Show, and one could argue that the conceptual theme of the record as a whole is one of hope and progress in the aftermath of catastrophe. Clear-cut sentiments are few and far between with this type of project, and the frequent pairing of conflicting emotional ideas plants the album squarely within the realm of the uncomfortable reality of which we are all occupants. This notion is magnified further by the harmonic conflict which colors several sections, unflinchingly thrusting into the limelight the confounding duality of man – This Is the Show, indeed.
The tracks “Any More Alone” and “Wait for Me” straddle these contradictions, the brass swells of the former appearing to indicate a boisterous battle charge, while subsequent movements suggest a hesitancy to engage in what was once a foregone conclusion. The latter, a piano-based waltz, seems almost exultant from a chordal perspective. But there is a melancholy to the presentation of the idea, a reticence in the embrace of victory that reads more like a celebration of a life lived but lost than of a proclamation of triumph.
Much of This Is the Show explores the idea of peeling back layers to reveal what lies hidden beneath the surface. But some of the album’s most engaging moments arrive on the heels of the wrangling and marshaling of its vast elements into a palpably linear formation. “A War Within” is a pertinent illustration of this idea, its uncharacteristically steady beat sauntering beneath melodic exchanges that call to mind the fluidity of Klinghoffer’s work on 2016’s The Getaway.
But what may be the high point of the album as a whole arrives early on, in the form of “Offend.” An acoustic guitar-centered, minor chord stomp that sounds like a distant cousin Sir Paul McCartney’s “Mrs. Vanderbilt,” the track rides a steady groove and bubbling bassline to fantastic effect. The chordal movement is eerie, and the contrast of the headlong rhythm and knowing inflections of the vocal conjure the simultaneously absurd and affecting sensation of a campy, 1980s Halloween party at which malevolent forces are working unseen toward a tragic conclusion to the evening. As for what this means in regard to the experience of the average listener, or anyone else for that matter, is unclear. But something about this particular combination of elements makes for a track that begs perennial listening.
In a career spanning decades, which has brought him into the orbit of everyone from CeeLo Green to Elton John, Josh Klinghoffer – through the creative lens of Pluralone – continues the steadfast pursuit of his highest artistic self. While what This Is the Show achieves in terms of personal catharsis can only be accurately determined by the artist behind the work, its illumination of many uncomfortable but ever-present facets of the human experience – belief systems about to fall in on themselves, radically opposing perceptions of the world shoehorned into misshapen and undersized confines within the framework of the human spirit – is truly a wonder to behold. Far from a man beholden to his past, Pluralone’s This Is the Show reintroduces Josh Klinghoffer to the world as a creative force of nature, the likes of which could very well shape the artistry of future generations should they be so judicious as to take the dive themselves.
Pluralone: This Is the Show – Album Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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