Album Review: John Frusciante – The Empyrean

[Record Collection; 2009]

John Frusciante has always been the ‘weird’ Chili Pepper. When he’s not taking time out to be a drugged up painter for seven years, he’s releasing immense concept albums with themes ranging from Death to the deepest reaches of Heaven, quite the polar opposite to his front man Anthony Kiedis. In The Empyrean, he covers all of these, and more, and in the meantime, does his best impression of Tom Waits.

The Empyrean opens up with the lengthy instrumental “Before The Beginning”, itself a musical tribute to Funkadelic (although, its not what you expect), and in it, Frusciante’s playing is immediately shining. His long-term backing mate, Bicycle Thief’s Josh Klinghoffer, keeps a subtle beat, and the guitar takes over. This is one of the few moments that Frusciante doesn’t have of self control in the entire album, the rest of the guitar’s time is spent in the back seat to Frusciante’s voice. His Tim Buckley cover, “Song to the Siren” and the marvelous “Unreachable” and “God” is next. These songs are delicate, intricate and beautifully executed, the best ten minutes of the album. However, the following track, the two part “Dark / Light” is about four minutes too long, its endless choral coda just asking you to reach for the ‘next’ button. The album is heavy on the reverb, the wah and the chorus pedal, all subtle in their involvement and in all perfectly put into place.

Frusciante’s lyrics are heavy, mature and childish at the same time. Lines like “Lose yourself in the far off worlds \ that are right under
your feet” threaten to polarize some listeners, but this reviewer considers them a step up from the wails of his ‘Niandra’ days.

Coupled with the two Japanese bonus tracks, this album is a nice insight to John’s spiritual beliefs, his fantastic voice and his among-the-best-of-the-best guitar playing. His mixing is fantastic, his recording techniques are second to none, and he has even taken the time to let us know about the lack of over-compression on the record, encouraging listeners of the Japanese version to ‘turn it up!’

The Empyrean is heavy, intense, brilliantly played and overly long. These are all things to be expected from John Frusciante. It’s well worth the effort.