Album Review

Chad W. Lutz

The rest of the album sounds like attending church on acid.

Ever wonder what it’s like to ascend into heaven but get stuck halfway mulling over whether or not, if and when you get there, if there will be anything to arrive to? Most of you? Probably not. For people like Frusciante? Guess so, because the 2009 The Empyrean by ex-Chili Pepper drug offender, John Frusciante, goes there. Oh ya, baby.

His tenth studio album (which is poppycock to think about considering the Chili Peppers alone put out nine albums in their now 26 year career) was released last year on January 20th, 2009. Though produced and played by the 18th greatest guitar player of all time in Frusciante (according to Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2003 list that I seem to keep referencing time and time again) the album strays far from anything the chili-peppered punk funk quartet he used to call home to ever produced.

The hour and two minute album sports a cover torn straight from the brain of someone consumed by heavy amounts of unmentionables. This is fairly standard and more often than not business as usual with someone the likes of Frusciante, who’s been in and out of the news (and the Chili Peppers) for over a decade and a half with an unnatural taste for heroin.
Twelve tracks long, The Empyrean showcases a wide variety of genres, including psychedelic rock (Before The Beginning), slow and rambling soul (Unreachable), and there’s even a spot of gospel laid out on several of the tracks; “God”, “Dark/Light”, and “Heaven”. All of which feature prominent organ work and back up singers that sound straight out of Sister Act.

The album features Frusciante playing lead guitar on most tracks and a little bit of six string bass (which is always fun) on “Dark/Light.” The album also reunites him with former band mate, Flea, and, oddly enough, his replacement in the Chili Peppers (Josh Klinghoffer).

The album kicks off with a song that might as well have George Clinton softly muttering poetry in the background. A page right out of Funkadelic’s library, Frusciante pulls out all the psychedelic pins and plops a cosmic grenade right in the middle of your lap. Slow and looming, the sound builds; first with really soft, melodic guitar and then moving further down the rabbit hole when an electronic beat begins to echo. Soon after drums follow, and then all hell breaks loose.

But what’s odd about the album is that, after listening to the first song you think, “OK, this is what I’m in for?” and you begin the mental preparation. So the next song comes on and you listen to it for a moment, and you think it’s going to break out Jim Morrison style at any moment. But that moment never comes, and is never once recreated throughout any of the rest of the album.

The rest of the album sounds like attending church on acid. Wailing choirs and heavy piano and organ fill out the majority of the sound, with some mild reprise coming from a few of the tracks Flea plays on. The only track that remotely sounds like the characteristic sound he’s known for (which is certainly not gospel) is the thundering drum heavy and guitar wailing seven minute rocker: “Central.”

In 2005, before his departure with the Chili Peps, Frusciante released his penultimate album (to date at least), Curtains, which he also produced and wrote, rounding out a series of six albums, all with inter-related themes. Something tells me that the “Curtains” should have just fallen there.

It’s often times hard for artists to shake off the shells of their former bands once they go single. Some try to by-pass this step all together by releasing simultaneous solo albums alongside their band’s studio releases. But what happens more often than not is that fans get used to hearing one type of style from one artist and that ugly word “type-cast” molds over and cocoons most chances any artist might have of breaking on through to the other side (for lack of better words and from an undying love for the Doors).

But that’s not to say that the album isn’t “good” or that it’s “bad” (that’s what the number system is for [I kid, I kid]). It oozes with originality and is an obvious step in a good direction of where music can, and maybe even should go. But if you’re looking for a repeat performance of the “freaky style” punk funk that gave him claim to fame, you might want to leave this in the record collection it came from.