Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Empyrean – A Beautiful Album By A Beautiful Soul

Don’t ever confuse between John Frusciante, the ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and John Frusciante, the solo artist. They are two completely different entities. Beyond the reach of pop charts and radio formats, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante has carved out a parallel world as a solo artist over a series of intensely personal and brilliantly realised albums. The title takes its cue from a term used by Dante, Milton and Keats to describe the highest point in heaven. Frusciante describes it as a concept album (about two characters that exist in the mind of one person over the course of a lifetime) but esoteric knowledge is not a prerequisite to understanding it. On repeated listens, the record reveals itself as a veiled narrative about the struggle to create, the desire for achievement and validation, the temptation to exist. Much like the rest of his solo work, The Empyrean serves as a snapshot of philosophical and spiritual outpourings from the man’s own head. He calls it a concept album (about two characters that exist in the mind of one person over the course of a lifetime), but it essentially boils down to a narrative about the struggle for validation through creation, of facing loss and death amidst a celebration of spirituality. 
The opening song - well instrumental piece actually – Before The Beginning, is Frusciante’s rendition of Eddie Hazel’s epic masterpiece, Maggot Brain.  Every song that follows, however, is a testament to John’s significant growth as a composer and singer since his blizzard of releases in 2004. His guitar virtuosity has never been in question, but John also seems to have grown leaps and bounds as a vocalist as well as a studio artist. John’s cover of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren is a gorgeous, sad understatement that’s entirely free of guitar, relying on the sparse, delicate narrative. The minimalistic use of analog synths make this gut-wrenchingly melancholic and desperately lonely.  “I’m as troubled as the tide” doesn’t sound as pretentious as it should, coming from a spirit such as John’s. Given the context, it’s actually heart-breaking. Track 3, Unreachable, builds up like the most intense orgasm you’ve ever had. A beautiful voice, powerful bass riffs, ending with emotionally charged layers of guitar solos – it’s almost the perfect song, like Stairway To Heaven.
Talking about the album, Frusciante said, "The Empyrean is a story that has no action in the physical world. It all takes place in one person’s mind throughout his life. The only other character is someone who does not live in the physical world but is inside it, in the sense that he exists in people’s minds. The mind is the only place that anything can be truly said to exist. The outside world is only known to us as it appears within us by the testament of our senses. The imagination is the most real world that we know because we each know it first-hand. Seeing our ideas take form is like being able to see the sun come into being. We have no equivalent to the purity of that in our account of the outside world. The outer world appears to each of us as one thing and it is always also a multitude of others. Inside to outside and outside to inside are never-ending. Trying and giving up are a form of breathing.”

Notable Songs: Before The Beginning, Song To The Siren, Unreacheable and Central

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