Since he escaped his tooth-consuming drug addiction and returned to the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1998, guitar hero John Frusciante has released a remarkable 10+ records through his solo projects - while of course playing a major part in the rehabilitation of the Chili Peppers from punk-funkers to stadium-filling, serious rockers.
While the results of the experimentation on his 2001 and 2004 solo albums have had an obviously positive effect on the Chili Peppers (most notably through the mind-blowing guitar-theatrics of Stadium Arcadium), he still manages to hold plenty back for himself - and there are not many albums that kick off with a 9 minute space-jam. Frusciante's own notes recommend that the album is played "as loud as possible and it is suited to dark living rooms late at night" - and the opener re-affirms that point. Slowly building from a lone drum, it's a vocal-free track where the guitar does the singing (sorry), as we are slowly drawn into the album.
The roles are reversed on Song To The Siren - a cover of the Tim Buckley classic, which is notable here for it's lack of guitar, instead relying on Frusciante's haunting vocals to beautifully carry the song - with delicate keyboards providing much of the charm, both here and throughout the album as a whole. Once we're warmed up, Unreachable provides one of the many high-points of the record, seemingly using a two minute intro as an excuse to unleash the stunt guitars for a blistering 4 minute outro.
The David Axelrod-style production tricks are in full-effect through the album, with some of Frusciante's more eccentric moments adding a great deal of personality to the record, whether he's singing in a faux booming voice on One More Of Me, or looping choral-style samples on Dark Light - which again uses a haunting intro, before segueing into a seemingly separate song and building beautifully on a simple bassline to hypnotise you through another 8 minute epic.
The relatively lavish production quality of Shadows Collide With People is still absent here and would have benefitted the record greatly, although production is certainly a step up from the more lo-fi home-studio vibe of many of the solo projects. Although, when you're a rock star living in the Hollywood hills, the home studio is not what it used to be. The vocals are sometimes often over-effected, where they would perhaps be more effective raw - but don't worry, there's plenty of room for another epic before the end and Central provides another soaring high point to the album, winding samples and booming keyboards through a heavily layered guitar track that builds and builds.
As a complete record, this is certainly a more focused release than Frusciante's six-albums-in-six-months period, as while each of those records yielded several gems, there was a certain sense of in-cohesiveness, which is clearly absent here. While Frusciante describes The Empyrean as a "concept album", he acknowledges that it may not come accross as narrative in that sense, but there is certainly a running theme within the songs, which all hold the same mood and tone - echoing feelings of loss, death and spirituality. The result is an outstanding, thoroughly involving and innovative album - which provides a sometimes challenging listen, with many rewards.
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