John Frusciante will always be known for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers rather than his side career as a songwriter. His personal work, while generally impressive, is essentially just an offshoot of his work with the band, and The Empyrean offers nothing to the contrary.
Frusciante’s playing in RHCP’s Stadium Arcadium really emphasized his ability as a vital member as opposed to just the band’s backing guitarist. More and more, Frusciante’s playing style has evolved into a mellower approach opposite of RHCP bassist Flea’s faster, funkier slapping.
It’s a little inappropriate to compare The Empyrean to a RHCP album instead of taking into consideration earlier works from Frusciante, but it’s almost impossible not to think of RHCP while hearing this album. If Stadium Arcadium provided proof of the band’s split personality, The Empyrean embodies everything Frusciante’s more relaxed side ever wanted to write. Flea even plays bass on four of the album’s 10 tracks.
What really makes Frusciante’s talent stand out on this record are his instrumental segues that scatter themselves throughout the album. The album is dying for Frusciante’s imperfect and smooth sustain, and guitar-centric songs like “Before the Beginning” are outnumbered by boring, experimental delves into instrumental composition
Frusciante’s voice might sound like a mix between Cat Stevens and Phil Collins, but it fits the music well. His use of electric piano and organ is thoughtful, but the two instruments make their way into the record way too often and simply aren’t up to par with Frusciante’s guitar ability. “Dark Light” sounds like a broken gospel record.
All in all, The Empyrean is a pretty relaxing album. It’s great to hear the origins of RHCP’s softer side, which wouldn’t exist without Frusciante. The album probably won’t make you jump or cringe, and it’s infinitely better than the new All-American Rejects travesty.
Give these tracks a listen: “Before the Beginning,” “Unreachable“
For fans of: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ashlee Simpson
Justin T. Ho