Thought and language are, to the artist, instruments of art. There is something to be said when a musical artist, rather than limiting themselves to the recollections of their standards (funk/junkie or otherwise), reflects within themselves in order reveal a deeper connection.
The rut to which we have all been habituated: almost four years has passed since John Frusciantes last release of a new record and little has changed in the way of our recent memories. Immense talent plus layered guitars plus occasional eclecticisms equals nice yet insubstantial Froosh record. The mans got soul, but he aint got no bones.
Think of The Empyrean as a grave – yard. Unlike its predecessors which were rushed (and as a result poorly mixed), this release off Record Collection features Frusciante at the top of his game both lyrically and production-wise. It also features help from some of his famous friends including Josh Klinghoffer, Flea, Johnny Marr, and The Sonus Quartet (of Gnarls Barkley touring fame).
With a firm hand and a taste for the theatrics, Frusciante pulls you along an undulating current, from extreme highs to tranquil lows and back again — admittedly the concept part of this concept record. As described by John himself, The main character [of the album] is a creative person who experiences the full spectrum of lifes ups and downs, where the musical dynamics work in tandem with these inner rises and falls he experiences.
This same dynamic is distilled and presented in the albums opening track, Before the Beginning. Vocal-less and chock full of Eddie Hazel nostalgia, Frusciante plays his guitar like his momma just died, Ã la Maggot Brain. A soft, perpetual riff underlies the delayed drums and the soaring and screeching lead guitar. In true John fashion, solos come and go through both sides of the speakers, and despite the minimalist instrumentation, the sound covers wide sonic ground.
Not to be outdone, Song to the Siren, the second track on the album and a Tim Buckley cover, proves to be the yin to Before the Beginnings yang. The lyrics are instantly recognizable, but the production work provides a different spin on the classic. Waving synths and organs mutate the already emotional lyrics into something that can be felt and not just heard.
Though it may come as a surprise to some, it should be noted that there is very little on The Empyrean that is indicative of Frusciantes work with the Chili Peppers — and certainly not of their latest record. Songs like God and Heaven have a tinge of rhythms past, but is mainly due to Fleas bouncing and bopping lines. That being said, there is a clear amalgamation of concepts and tricks from his earlier solo records. The hazing synthesizers of A Sphere in the Heart of Silence, the fuzzed riffage of Inside of Emptiness, and the complex melodies of The Will to Death are all represented in The Empyrean in one way or another and provide a more complete view of Frusciante than ever heard. While his sixalbumsin- six-months attempted a stab at each of his individual musical qualities, The Empyrean provides all within one focused record.
Central, arguably the records centrepiece, stands just over seven minutes long and manages to combine all of Frusciantes strengths. The rhythm guitar is relatively simple, but is strengthened with all the added layers. The piano, though dissonant, adds a quirky hook to the chorus to go along with the classic Klinghoffer beat. Amid tempo and time changes, string arrangements, and overdriven solos, Frusciantes knack for creating strong melodies stands out. The vocals are unusually strong for the guitarist and add a certain power to the already robust arrangement.
Similar estimations can be made about many of the other songs, each of which possess their own flair. In addition to its standout solo, Enough of Me features a jangly-pop chorus — no doubt the influence of a certain Johnny Marr. The vocal delivery and harmonies in One More of Me are enough for impact without any added instrumentation, and Unreachable is a foray into psychedelica.
The Empyrean is an album of limits. High and low points are visited and explored and the music expands from narrow to wide. This quality, along with Frusciantes trademark hooks, make for a captivating record — surely one of his strongest to date.