Review Summary: Frusciante's latest acts as a meeting point for all of his previous work.
John Frusciante as a solo artist and John Frusciante as the Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist have proven themselves to be two vastly different concepts. RHCP over the past decade have become one of the biggest bands in the world and in turn has slowly lost what originality they once had. Frusciante since his 1992 departure from the Chili Peppers has been crafting extremely personal solo releases that build on his plethora of influences from Funkadelic to Kraftwerk. His solo success flourished in 2004 as he released numerous records all with their own unique divulgence into a variety of his techniques and styles. 'The Empyrean' is in a sense the first record where Frusciante has reigned in all of his influences and sounds to craft a record and by doing that he has crafted what can only be described as his most coherent release.
Similar to 'Shadows Collide With People', 'The Empyrean' comes across as one of Frusciante's more accessible records. The songs here are all presented differently, but Frusciante is embracing the more appropriate and recognizable artists that he lists as influences. Music from the 1970s as a whole is splattered across 'The Empyrean' with the first track being indebted to the timeless 'Maggot Brain' and track two being a Tim Buckley cover. Frusciante's guitar theatrics are also given a chance to fully be explored on the more progressive tracks like "Unreachable" and "Central". These more developed guitar parts seem to have come from Frusciante's partnership with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez which has certainly helped his music become more eccentric and complex, rather than diluting into the simplicity of typical solo artist material. The best part of the album is probably found in the three song suite of ‘Heaven’, ‘Enough of Me’, and ‘Central’. ‘Heaven’ is a stark ballad, ‘Enough of Me’ an effect ridden pop track with an explosive ending featuring John’s best solo on the record and ‘Central’ is of course as I mentioned the final epic of ‘The Empyrean’.
For those fans of his that have been embracing his solo work for years the other worldliness of Frusciante's concept for this record will seem like common ground. His interviews have always revealed a man who after his addictions and near death experiences came out enlightened and almost religiously awakened. While this kind of contextual background behind his work may not be a drawing point it is puzzling that some reviews of this album have seemed to criticize Frusciante for simply being himself. His mannerisms throughout his careers have always seemed very based in the exploration of faith and as always it isn't like these concepts are overbearing, simply just a reasoning behind the composer's work.
Although 'The Empyrean" has few criticisms, its lack of straying from his previous work may be a problem for some. 'Curtains', 'DC EP', and the other records Frusciante released before 'The Empyrean' pointed towards a more personal and intimate take where his latest in reality rivals 'Shadows Collide With People' both of them existing as his most bombastic and approachable releases. 'Dark/Light' comes off as an embellished b-side to 'To Record Water For Only Ten Days'. 'One More of Me' which features a string quartet feels over bloated and entirely out of place. It certainly is not a bad song just a bad choice for this particular record as it focuses almost entirely on a Frusciante vocal performance where most of the rest of the album is mainly concerned with textural, atmospheric musical elements. This sentiment kind of says a lot about what there is to dislike on 'The Empyrean'. Nothing is essentially bad, it just seems like some of the tracks and moments were tacked on rather than presenting themselves as fully developed ideas. Back in 2004 this would’ve made sense as Frusciante was releasing record after record, but after four years of no new material 'The Empyrean' comes off as a little too immediate and lacking replay value. Still, the notable tracks certainly makes this far away from a failure and the record as a whole is yet another solid presentation of Frusciante's unique take on his own solo career.