Posted on February 9th, 2009 (3:06 pm) by Sean Morrissey

Success over the last several years has seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers separate themselves father and farther from the more funked-up vibe of their early days. While I am all for musical growth and applaud the Peppers’ transition into mainstream success, it seems something else has also become increasingly distant from the RHCP sound: the skillful shredding of lead axe-man John Frusciante. As some of you might recall, 1989’s Mother’s Milk (among a slew of other releases, most notably Blood Sugar Sex Magik) showcased the band’s collective virtuosity. But recent releases have been a letdown. Thankfully for those fans of the old wave, John Frusciante has released a number of brilliant solo albums that make clear why he will go down as one of the greatest guitar players in rock and roll. His latest, a concept-driven album entitled The Empyrean highlights Frusciante’s abilities as a guitar player, a lyricist, and a surprisingly enigmatic bandleader.

Those unfamiliar with John Frusciante’s solo efforts may expect The Empyrean to stand solely as an endless shredfest with little substance. A trip to Frusciante’s website (http://johnfrusciante.com) would behoove listeners prior to actually sitting down with the album. The site features a poem intended by Frusciante to help focus listeners on the ideas threaded throughout The Empyrean. Consider it a preface leading up to the first chapter. In the case of this record, the first chapter is, to say the least, a doozy.

“Before the Beginning” is a 9-minute epic of an opener, leaving the vocals behind for a slow warming instrumental that explodes into a firestorm of emotion. One of my favorite things about John Frusciante’s style is that he is often less concerned with how many notes per measure he can blaze through, and more with how much emotion he can pull out of one solitary tone. He is in many ways a humble lead man, if such a thing can exist. The haunting melodies of “Before the Beginning” will reverberate within you long after the song is over.

Musical accolades aside, it would do this album no justice to point out the fantastic guitar playing alone, for that should go without saying. More surprising is Frusciante’s wide array of introspective lyrics that give the album better food for thought than the Red Hot Chili Peppers ever achieved. On “God” Frusciante crafts an interesting portrayal of faith, told from the perspective of the almighty. Lyrics like “I hear all your prayers because I’m each one of you. Creation’s not something I did, its something I do” shows the immense growth of a once-tortured soul who, just a short time ago, seemed destined to an early death.

Spirituality is the staple that bind together many of the tracks on The Empyrean, as demonstrated on “Heaven,” a deeply personal song that follows the singer as he explores his own afterlife. There are times throughout this album where Frusciante’s lyrics seem almost too personal, as though the listener has stolen the diary of a famed mind and read all his innermost thoughts. That said, all the songs here have such an intimacy to them that you never feel as though you’re intruding on this deeply personal moment, but rather that you have been invited to listen.

The Empyrean is a deeply personal album, but that is not to say it has no rock-and-roll backbone. “Today” is a hard driving return to familiar territory for RHCP fans, but among the other softer tracks on the album it seems slightly out of place. Its lyrics help forward the album’s established concepts, but its sonic packaging may make it harder for some listeners to swallow, having accustomed their ears to the album’s largely clean sounds.

The primary troubling thing about this album is that, unlike the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s next album, I fear The Empyrean may never be widely heard, and certainly not in the same massive numbers as RHCP’s legions of fans might suggest it could. Nevertheless, yet again, John Frusciante has proven that he is among an elite few in rock music who can write, compose, sing, and play alone or with the best with equal musical success. However, as it is often said, musical success and commercial success rarely go hand in hand. For those who choose to sit down with The Empyrean, expect a heavy dose of philosophy, some slight psychedelia, and the most personal thoughts and revelations of a man who may sadly, and inaccurately, go down in music’s great scrapbook as a one-trick guitar man.

Track List

1. Before the Beginning (9:09)
2. Song of the Siren (3:34)
3. Unreachable (6:10)
4. God (3:24)
5. Dark Light (8:30)
6. Heaven (4:03)
7. Enough of Me (4:15)
8. Central (7:16)
9. One More of Me (4:06)
10. After the Ending (3:58)
11. Today (4:39)
12. Ah Yom (3:18)


John Frusciante’s MySpace page

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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