Sound — 8
John Frusciante has always has always been a free thinker musically, not to mention embodying the persona of an anti-rock star off the stage. Hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist's latest solo album drives that point home even more so, and you should prepare yourself for a bit of a trippy experience. The Empyrean is the farthest thing from anything you would hear in RHCP, instead hovering somewhere between folk rock and psychedelia. Of course, if you've heard any of the solo albums that Frusciante has released since the mid-90's, then you know this is revealing nothing new. Perhaps the best info about The Empyrean was given by Frusciante himself, who said the album should be played as loud as possible and it is suited to dark living rooms late at night. The first track Before The Beginning sets the bar very high, with this instrumental emphasizing Frusciante's laid-back, effects-driven guitar. While most of the other tracks give the spotlight as much to vocals, piano (electric or otherwise), and percussion, Before The Beginning allows you to just appreciate the David Gilmour-esque delivery of the guitar work. While the track does reach a huge crescendo at the end, it takes on a cool, low-key vibe for the most part. Given that pretty much every other song features vocals, an instrumental is a welcome addition. It's apparent early on that Frusciante's vocals bear a striking similarity to Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam), and that can a times make for a much mellower experience in itself. It's not the traditional rock style, but it's likely that Frusciante's fans will still be able to appreciate the unique delivery. He's at his most moving in his rendition of Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren, which is easily one of the most haunting tracks on the album and shows off Frusciante's wide vocal range. Rock lovers might be taken aback by how quiet the mix is, but it's still a powerful tune. Frusciante got it absolutely correct when he stated that you should probably play The Empyrean at a specific time in specific surroundings. Although guest musicians Flea, Johnny Marr, and Josh Klinghoffer offered their skills to this project, it's obvious still Frusciante's oddly beautiful baby. The Empyrean is not like a RHCP's album that is chock-full of possible hit singles, but the track Unreachable does come close. Out of all the tunes, Unreachable is one of the most accessible between the hummable chorus and the infectiously grooving electric piano line. At the other end of the spectrum is the bizarre Enough of Me, which features a solo that is purposely all over the place. It should be mentioned that this is one of the tracks that Johnny Marr performs on, which means that the song could be a result an experimental session. If the solo wasn't coming from Frusciante or Marr, you might even question the guitarist's skills. Enough of Me is just one example of why The Empyrean is an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. Its otherworldly sound will either immediately connect with you or leave you scratching your head in confusion.
Lyrics — 9
There are no throwaway lyrics on The Empyrean, and you know that these were songs that came straight from Frusciante's heart. With titles like God and Dark/Light, you can immediately expect something much deeper than a Nickelback album - or even a Red Hot Chili Peppers record for that matter. Unreachable delivers some of the most thought-provoking ideas with lyrics such as, Reach into the darkness for what you can find; Travel great distance in your mind; The world gets stronger as you start trying things; Turn around towards me and walk away from dying. As was mentioned earlier, listening to The Empyrean takes you on quite a journey.
Overall Impression — 8
Buzz around The Empyrean has been generally positive from Frusciante's dedicated fan base, but the general public might not find it an easy pill to swallow at first. There are some odd mixing choices (at times the drums are way up in the mix, at other times the vocals come blasting through), and it all adds up to a wacky, but interesting listen. The guitar work is at times understated and quiet, but it confirms that Frusciante has put the songwriting first. If you're not willing to commit to a trippy, often moody listening experience, this won't be the album for you. But if you're someone who thrives on experimentation and has been pleased with Frusciante's past solo work, you'll likely find The Empyrean another inspired creation.