5 Second Review: John Frusciante- The Empyrean

Chilli Peppers' guitarist and mild nutjob Frusciante follows up his '04/'05 six-album-odyssey with The Empyrean, his 11th solo release. Will this one be more 'I have so much music inside of me just waiting to get out' or 'I just wanted some money for heroin'?


  • Frusciante's musicianship can never really be questioned, and this album is no different to usual. His trademark simple-yet-effective guitar playing is present throughout.
  • As is also a trademark with Frusciante's playing, each tiny note seems to be packed with barrels of emotion. Which is nice.
  • It seems to me that Frusciante's best solo work is done in collaboration with former Bicycle Thief guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer, and his presence on The Empyrean seems to have again done the trick.
  • This record is essentially somewhere in between the polished pop of When Shadows Collide With People and the dark experimentation of The Will To Death. All the catchy as hell pop hooks are still there, but Frusciante isn't afraid to riff on them and experiment at length.
  • Most of these experiments are pretty damned successful, with midi-controlled vocal choirs, glitched up guitar chords and seriously heavy string quartets being amongst the highlights.
  • That said, the best thing about the album is still the fact that it's filled with some amazing songs. Frusciante has a knack of writing hooky little emotive melodies, and also somehow making them danceable.
  • Finally, there are at least three occurances on this album of Frusciante's famous 'gutteral roar'. Which is just awesome.
  • As is want to happen when one cranks up the experimentation, there are a few examples of self-indulgence. The album's opening track is unfortunately one casualty, and at over nine minutes long, becomes quite irritating.
  • Frusciante has neglected to get the album mastered. This was a conscious choice (as he explains in the liner notes), as he wanted the music to maintain the dynamic it was mixed with. While this is a fairly admirably stand against homogeny, it means that listening to the album on anything other than a decent stereo and at a hefty volume is going to significantly take away from it's quality. So he's got to be marked down for lack of practicality.
As with most of Frusciante's work, The Empyrean is slightly hit & miss... but thankfully leaning towards hit. I, for one, have no problem skipping through a few tracks if it means landing on something like the song below.

John Frusciante- Unreachable

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February 17, 2009 at 10:16 AM Leigh O'Gorman said...

if anything, i'd applaud him for not getting it mastered

hearing how a majority of albums are murdered by mastering engineers at present, it'll be a welcome from the barrage of noise that is produced today

well, it would be welcome if it wasn't for the fact i don't like his output, but there you go i suppose...

February 17, 2009 at 11:03 AM Clockwork Rob said...

Yeh, it's definitely an inventive move, and listening to it in all its glory is great. It just suffers more than usual when played on my tinny computer speakers so it could be looked at in both ways, I guess.

February 17, 2009 at 12:25 PM Leigh O'Gorman said...


but something tells me that Frusciante - whilst solo- is more of a purist than the rest of RHCP and the thought of his songs through shitty speakers would be abhorrent vision

February 17, 2009 at 3:49 PM Astonishing Sod-Ape said...

Seriously, can nobody afford a pair of speakers? Jaysus, 40 quid will get you a set of great Creative ones! No more moaning about something so silly. Frusciante was quite right.

The album's great, and I'd agree that it sits between Shadows and Will To Death. Dark Light's amazing. You nailed what's right about the album, and your point about the opening piece is rock solid. Great track but way too long.

But I'd have to take issue with your 'money for heroin' comment - wtf? Hell no. In fact, he only released a 'drug money album' once, 12 years ago, when he was (surprise surprise) actually on heroin. Since cleaning up, he's put out 8 solo albums and several EPs and worked on countless more. He's currently working on the Speed Dealer Moms (with Venetian Snares) and N.A.S.A. projects, in between Chilis and Ataxia albums, and producing some of the best guitar work of his life. Do you really think he could be back on heroin? For a throwaway joke, it seems either ill-informed or just cruel, which is strange considering you clearly have a good knowledge of his back catalogue and personal history.

I dunno, maybe I'm just taken aback to see a line like that here of all places. And maybe I'm taking it too seriously. After all, your review is otherwise spot-on. I'll shut up now...

February 17, 2009 at 4:08 PM Clockwork Rob said...

I think the 'money for heroin' thing would be a fair barometer with which to judge the quality of his albums, and that's all it is- I'm not making any personal damning comment about the man (who is obviously a god).

I think anyone will admit that 'Smile from the Streets You Hold' was a pretty woeful album, and he himself put that down to the fact that he 'just wanted the money for heroin'. That's all I'm saying- is the new album 'I have so much music inside of me' good or 'I just wanted some money for heroin' bad.

Using his own phrases to describe the range of quality in his work just seemed to me a bit more aesthetically pleasing than simply saying 'Is the album good or bad?'. There's no offence intended, and certainly no implication that he's back on the junk!

February 17, 2009 at 4:23 PM Astonishing Sod-Ape said...

Yeah, I figured you were a big fan, which is why it jarred somewhat! I understand what you meant though.

Smile From The Streets was poor, no question. He was actually so ashamed of it afterwards (and maybe, by extension, his heroin use) that he withdrew it a couple of years later. But I think everything else he's done is great, even during that period. Many of my friends reckon Niandra Lades is his best album - it's excellent but I'd still go for To Record Only Water.

February 17, 2009 at 7:08 PM You Punch Your Mother With That Mouth? said...

Why did John Frusciante cross the road?
To get away from the rehab clinic.

How many John Frusciante's does it take to change a lightbulb?
Depends how recently he's shot up.

What guitar is favoured by John Frusciante?
The Meth-ipone

What did John Frusciante do when the record company told him they weren't happy with his new tracks?
Went and bought long-sleeved shirts.

What do you get if you cross John Frusciante with an octopus?
A junkie with 8 arms to shoot up into

February 17, 2009 at 8:30 PM Clockwork Rob said...

I think my favourite would probably be Curtains- the stripped down rawness of the songs was just fantastic. I also love Shadows, but think it has a bit of filler. Shame when you have tracks like Carvel, which is just stunning- probably my all-round favourite Frusciante track.

February 18, 2009 at 7:46 PM Astonishing Sod-Ape said...

'You Punch Your Mother With That Mouth?' - isn't that from the Christian Bale scene in Family Guy? Arf arf.

Carvel's great but I prefer Cut-Out. All of the 2004 releases were superb. Unfortunately there's little chance of him ever going down the To Record Only Water route again, so it looks like he's sticking with the Will To Death/Shadows direction for the moment, which is fine by me. Lush, full-band stuff. Can't wait to hear the Venetian Snares collaboration at Bangface though.