Review Summary: John Frusciante takes another step away from his Chili Peppers' roots with his most recent experimental solo album which is now more than three years old.
After lying low for a few years after a tremendous burst of activity in 2004 (in which he recorded and released four full length albums), John Frusciante released his phenomenal tenth album The Empyrean. John Frusciante has always been a free thinker musically, not to mention embodying the persona of an anti-rock star off the stage. Hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist’s most recent studio solo album drives that point home even more so. This sounds nothing like a typical RHCP record, instead hovering somewhere between folk rock and psychedelia. Of course, if you’ve heard any of the solo albums that Frusciante has released since the mid-90’s, then you know that none of it sounds like RHCP. Frusciante probably best described the album himself, who said it should “be played as loud as possible and it is suited to dark living rooms late at night.”
The album’s first song, “Before The Beginning” is my favourite track on the record. It is very reminiscent of “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic, one of my favourite songs of all time, and “Before The Beginning” is just a brilliant, if not better. Frusciante’s guitar soars beautifully over echoing drums and hushed piano chords in the background. Although it clocks in at over nine minutes, the whole song is worth the listen.
It’s apparent early on that Frusciante’s vocals bear a striking similarity to Cat Stevens, and that can at times make for a mellow experience. It’s not traditional rock style vocals, but I adore his singing and it’s likely that his fans will appreciate the unique vocal delivery. “Song Of The Siren,” a cover of Tim Buckley, is one of the most haunting songs on the album, and shows off Frusciante’s wide vocal range. “Unreachable” sounds different to most songs on the album. Out of all the tunes, “Unreachable” is one of the most accessible between the catchy chorus and electric piano line. At the other end of the spectrum is the bizarre “Enough Of Me,” which features a unique guitar solo that is purposely all over the place. “Central” is another song that goes together perfectly and is one of the best songs on the album.
There are no throwaway lyrics on The Empyrean, and you know that these were songs that came straight from Frusciante’s heart. With titles like “God” and “Dark/Light,” you know that the album is much deeper and less cheesy than a Nickelback album. The lyrics in “Unreachable” in particular contain some thought-provoking lyrics: “Reach into the darkness for what you can find; Travel great distance in your mind; The world gets stronger as you start trying things; Turn around towards me and walk away from dying.”
With The Empyrean, John Frusciante has reached one of the most intriguing and interesting points
in his incredible journey as a musician and lives up to all of his past material. For what it’s worth however, The Empyrean seems to be a bit too ambitious and much more progressive and experimental than any of Frusciante’s previous albums. It is definitely the most impressive album since Shadows Collide With People, but that still remains my favourite Frusciante release. Make no mistake though, The Empyrean is brilliant, and it will be interesting to see what direction Frusciante goes in for his next album.
• Before The Beginning
• Song To The Siren