Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: John Frusciante - "The Empyrean"

Published on March 5, 2009 in The Red & Black


"'The Empyrean' is a story that has no action in the physical world," the renowned Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist John Frusciante wrote on his personal Web site.

"The outside world is only known to us as it appears within us by the testament of our senses. The imagination is the most real world that we know because we each know it first hand."

This bold statement of intent naturally signals an album of similarly ambitious caliber: "The Empyrean," his first solo record since 2004, is his most conceptual yet.

Whereas the majority of Frusciante's solo material was composed quickly (the guy recorded a full six albums in 2004 alone), "The Empyrean" has been in gestation ever since the RHCP did "Stadium Arcadium" in 2006.

The extra time Frusciante spent on the album clearly shows, luring the listener into a mellow, psychedelic journey that oscillates between concise rock songs and elaborately designed epics, which positively boil with emotion.

Of the longer material, "Dark/Light" and "Central" emerge as the album's nuclei. The former features a Gothic choir propelled by a hyperactive bass line and MIDI drums, while the latter layers experimental guitars and keyboards over an otherwise straightforward progression.

Frusciante may not have the gritty, balls-y style or natural instinct for rhythm possessed by RHCP's vocalist Anthony Kiedis, but his own voice is tenfold more powerful and emotionally charged.

In fact, many of the songs on "The Empyrean" center on his impassioned vocal performances - notably "God" and a brilliant rendition of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren."

Not to mention his singing has grown more experimental, evident in the otherworldly vocal manipulation on "Unreachable" and the abnormally low register heard on "One More of Me."

The emphasis here is obviously Frusciante's vocals, but he doesn't let anybody forget the reason he became famous in the first place: his exceptional guitar prowess ("Enough of Me," "God" and "Unreachable").

The guitar melody in opener "Before the Beginning" unfolds and climaxes, like a feather caught in an updraft. But there's also a chance that unless you're stoned it may not be quite as enthralling.

With "The Empyrean," Frusciante creates a compelling landscape that brims with passion, cementing for himself a unique identity removed from the realm of the RHCP.

Oh and for what it's worth...

Happy 311 Day! (Get it, March 11th? Yes, of course you do.) They just uploaded some new information on their ninth studio album Uplifter today on their website. The album's release date has gotten pushed back to June 2, but considering they haven't put out an album since 2005, it's really right around the corner... I'm keeping my fingers crossed for it to be good. If it sounds like Don't Tread on Me I very well may have to officially quit listening to them. And the video clip of their new single "Hey You" didn't exactly help to quell any doubts I already have.

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