Experimental Pepper

The Empyrean (Record Collection)
John Frusciante

By Hunter Embry

It's been ten years since guitarist John Frusciante emerged from heroin addiction and relative obscurity to re-join the Red Hot Chili Peppers and release the multi-platinum Californication.

Frusciante enters 2009 with the release of his tenth solo album, The Empyrean. The concept album marks a step forward in Frusciante's vocal range and confidence. His guitar playing is otherworldly as always.

The Empyrean opens with the nine-minute, verseless dream song, "Before the Beginning." The track optimistically drags with loud, hollowly drums and minor key guitar chords, which slowly marches into a rich-toned Fender solo.

Song to the Siren," full of psychedelic pianos and synthesizer, trades drums and guitar solos for a set of mature vocals that stand high and sincere above the rest of the mix. The track seems to be a lengthy intro to "Unreachable," a Sixties groove song with strange echoes and comforting pianos that nearly drown out Frusciante's far-away yells, before being exploded by a wah-wah'ed guitar that experiments without drifting too far from a 1960s vintage, two-minute solo. The bass guitar is played by RHCP's bassist Flea, who also plays on several other tracks on "The Empyrean."

God," probably the most rocking song and high point of The Empyrean, places Frusciante in the shoes of the big man. He sings with an angelic sounding anger, "You blaspheme my name, but still I love you / still I love you." The drums, phased and crunchy, hit hard, while an old, Wurlitzer riff is surrounded by tin-can guitar chords and classical string instruments.

The Empryean is experimental to say the least. Frusciante skillfully blends his rock guitar and vocals with the Sonus Quartet, the New Dimension Singers (a ten-piece singing group) electronic keyboards and pianos just to name a few. The Empryean is Frusciante's best solo effort to date because he has managed to turn his psychedelic tastes into an entire album of listenable material.

Experiment on your own at www.johnfrusciante.com.