The Empyrean review by John Frusciante

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  • Released: Jan 20, 2009
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.6 (260 votes)
John Frusciante: The Empyrean

Sound — 10
The Empyrean is Frusciante's 10th album (11th if you count the fan album he released free online a few years back). I have waited with baited breath ever since Curtains and in short, it more than lives up to expectations. To take a leaf from the UG Team, this is not a commercial album. There are no radio-friendly songs and I doubt there will be many people who like it. However, if you are a Frusciante fan, this is probably the best album he has released and if you are a fan of the psychedelic avante-garde then this should also be a good buy. In other words, the album is far from accessible but it can hardly be criticized for achieving the very thing it set out to do: to push musical boundaries and let John stretch himself more than he can in the Chili Pepppers. The album is perhaps best described as a mixture of A Sphere in the Heart of Silence and The Will Death but with less emphasis on the stream of consciousness and lo-fi elements. Everything is much more controlled and neater, the mixing is of a higher standard, setting a nice contrast between the understated, gentle melodies and more biting, sharper guitar work and vocals. Frusciante's stripped down guitar style is very clearly present, with familiar hooks in Unreachable and Before the Beginning. His vocals vary from incredibly mellow (Dark/Light) to loud and strong (Central). However, he seems to have much greater control of his voice than before and nowhere is this more clear than in the cover of Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren, one of the high points of the album. A point to note is that most of the vocals are treated in one way or another, so that there is distinct echo flowing through most of the album. Many of the instruments are also heavily edited with some sort of echo/reverb effects. For me this works well with the concept elements of the album. Frusciante described the Empyrean as a story within the mind of one person but one which has no obvious plot. Instead, the lyrics and the music combine together to form a coherent whole. The echo treatment appears as one of the devices to achieve this unity. Josh Klinghoffer, Flea and Johnny Marr collaborated with John on this album but it is difficult to tell without knowing in advance which songs they were involved with, which demonstrates the emphasis on a unified goal and sound rather than individualist expression. John's attention to arrangement helps this along, and he seems as competent at arranging strings (One More of Me)and backing vocals (Dark/Light) as sweeping piano (Central) or synths (just about every song). An acoustic guitar is used but there are no strictly acoustic songs, although considering that Curtains was wholly acoustic this is probably welcome.

Lyrics — 9
The lyrics are not obviously coherent. Frusciante says on his blog, "attention was given to writing words that would gently direct themselves towards the listeners' intuitive brain, and their sub-conscience" ( However, the words do work well with the general theme and sounds of the Empyrean and seem to deal predominantly with reality, time, the spiritual, the mind etc. Frusciante's range has never seemed better and the backing singing is a great compliment to his lead.

Overall Impression — 10
As mentioned, I think the Empyrean is John's best album. I have listened to it all day and it's grown on me more and more. The lyrics, the arrangements of the various instruments, from strings to signature guitar hooks and impressive vocals is very accurate. The mixing compliments the psychedelic, progressive underpinnings of the album. Although Song to the Siren, Central, Dark/Light and One More of Me are the highlights for me, I find it difficult to pinpoint any real faults. Perhaps Dark/Light could be shorter towards the end or One More of Me could do without the misplaced screaming in the middle, and the climax of the album (After the Ending) is a bit of a letdown after the quality of the other songs but there are no major flaws for me, this is just nitpicking. I think it is wrong to penalize the album for being unappealing to the mainstream since that is not what it is meant to do. It is certainly different to any of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' albums (perhaps Venice Queen and Warm Tape from By The Way are the closest to the style of the Empyrean)but this is John's solo project and he can hardly be blamed for at least trying to sound different from almost everyone else. To answer the classic UG question, if it were stolen/lost, would you buy it again, I have to give a resounding "yes". I would probably buy 2 copies too, so that if I lost it again I would have a backup.

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    cena_911 wrote: Hey guys who do you think is a better guitarist John Frusciante or Noel Gallagher?
    I'm going to have to say Frusciante although I am huge fans of both of them, and if it came down to songwriting I'd say Gallagher
    fans of frusciante will adore this album but word of warning to newcomers, try listening to his album 'To Record Water for Ten Days' to help adjust to the experimental sound of his music.
    Has anyone noticed that "Before the Beginning" is basically a "tribute" to Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain"?
    I had a semi hard time getting into this album at first, but then one day i decided to listen to the album high and now i cant stop listening to it. It was one of the best albums, musically, that i had ever heard. Dark/Light is my favorite as of now but there are so many that are just as good.
    Whilst I don't rank this with TROWFTD (But then that album holds sentiment for me) nor with perhaps Inside of Emptiness and The Will to Death... The Empyrean is a wonderful listen, best done with the lights out and headphones on.
    I bought this album on the day it came out and listened to it and while it is a good album, as others have said I don't think it is a great album, John has definitely taken a step in another direction and there are a few excellent tracks on the album (Before the Beginning, Unreachable, Central, Enough of Me) and yes it is an experimental album but in my opinion it is not comparable to The Will to Death, Inside of Emptiness, Shadows Collide With People and Curtains. Hopefully John brings out a lot of stuff in the next 12-18 months while not recording with RHCP.
    nickyjohnson wrote: this album's is amazing. i don't expect,for me personally,that any album wil lcome close to beating this this year
    Agreed. I'm only thinking that Therapy? and Porcupine Tree might give a better experience. Though it will be hard because this is a five star record.
    I'm a huge john frusciante fan and I have to say like all his solo albums this one has its highs and lows. To be quite honest it seems to have a few more lows than his other solo works. The first track sets the bar very high, and also sets a mood that for the most part the album as a whole doesnt match. This is a concept album though, which I expect to be different. Unreachable is also another great track, as are a few of the others. The only problem is that some of the songs can get downright "gay" when john starts to use his high pitched drug addict voice that i havent heard since Niandra La'des. Also I would have like to have really heard a passionate amazing solo, like the one from "look on" off of Inside of Emptiness. I think this is a good album, but honestly I'm used to GREAT albums from frusciante. Personally I think Inside of Emptiness, shadows collide, to record only water, will to death, curtains, and DC EP were all better.
    this album's is amazing. i don't expect,for me personally,that any album wil lcome close to beating this this year
    Kingyem0c0re wrote: I was going to post my review of this album today after writing one for an independant site I write for occasionally, but honestly, my review is pretty much the same as the UG Team & Korbal Broach's combined. It's so nice to know music like this is produced still.
    Awesome, you should probably still post it, can't have enough reviews lol. I only really felt the need to write one 'cause I felt the UG Team was marking the album down for being too alternative and weird which isn't fair.
    I was going to post my review of this album today after writing one for an independant site I write for occasionally, but honestly, my review is pretty much the same as the UG Team & Korbal Broach's combined. It's so nice to know music like this is produced still.
    ordinary_story wrote: Heard this album....really mediocre stuff...i cringed at the guitar solos...i cannot understand why so many people like him.
    It's quite simple really.... his music is like no other.... it's unique.... it's beautiful.... that's why!
    Heard this album....really mediocre stuff...i cringed at the guitar solos...i cannot understand why so many people like him.
    Please do what Frusciante says "Dark Room" It really does make the whole thing a better experience.
    JF is possible the best guitarist of our generation if you consider album sales/audience size, ability, creativity, and magnitude of influence on fellow guitarists. Noel Gallagher is a good songwriter, and that's pretty much it.
    Target and Walmart come on. Buy it off his website or go to a small record store. He is not going to sell his music in a corporate shithole.
    zekk wrote: Clutch32192 wrote: is thsi sold at like walmart & places like that What the hell are you doing in walmart in the first place? I got it, its amazing! Frusciante NEVER disappoints. Honestly, I'm more excited about this and any form of tour he might do then I would be if the red hot chili peppers started putting out more music.
    well thats the kind of place near me, except target that sells cds & idk if frusciante wanted it to be widely sold, how hes kinda antistardom person
    metaldog_USMC wrote: His stuff is such a trip. From all his drug history, he is but the shell of a man. All he can do is sing and play guitar now. Listen to him in an interview and you'll know what I mean. Just picture a funky Keith Richards.
    He is simply a soul consisting purely of beautiful music and imagination. He is quite possibly the best thing to happen to music.
    Beautiful album. I still consider Shadows Collide and To Record Water his best albums but the more I listen to the Empyrean the more I love it and I would definately buy it again if it was lost or stollen. I will admitt I was looking for something with strong guitars and a little faster such as Inside of Emptiness or DC EP but the more I remember this is a concept album and what the meaning of Empyrean is I realized that this is an unbelievable album. Very cool. Thanks John.
    Oh yeah.. I just can't wait until I get my hands to this album.. I preordered it.. shame the physical CD didn't come out yesterday
    just the song "One more of me" makes this album worth it..the other ones are also beautiful, but that one is amazing..