John Frusciante Retrospective Series – Part 4: Central to Nowhere

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As the final entry in John Frusciante’s infamous “six albums in six months” project, Curtains may stand as the most effective of the bunch. It is certainly the most relatable.

To contrast with the previous works of The Will to Death and Inside of Emptiness, Curtains is an entirely more grounded, stripped-down effort than any of its predecessors. This is, of course, partly due to the stylistic choice to record the album mainly on acoustic instruments. Thus, the sonic qualities of the songs have an inherent air of intimacy about them. One could almost feel that they are in Frusciante’s living room as he sits down to record the material.

Consider the day-in-the-life music video for the album’s lead track, “The Past Recedes,” for example. While the footage here is entirely simplistic and perhaps mundane if taken out of context, it perfectly captures the feel of Curtains within its modest concept.

The record works best as an unassuming collection of songs which have undoubtedly come to stand as some of the most human material composed by Frusciante. While many may commonly think of the songwriter as one who specializes in the abstract with his music and lyrics, this acoustic record accentuates his ability to establish an unshakable relatability, if not always with comprehensiveness, then always on a purely emotional level.

Curtains may be the most scaled-down of all Frusciante’s recordings aside from the lo-fi material of his first two albums, and yet with the touching masterstrokes of “The Past Recedes,” “The Real,” “Time Tonight,” and “Leap Your Bar,” it even rivals the grandiosely-produced Shadows Collide with People for being his most immediately-accessible and compulsively-listenable.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

While Curtains may represent something of a John Frusciante masterpiece on one end of the spectrum, on the complete opposite end stands the towering musical behemoth that is The Empyrean.

It could be argued that this release stands as one of the songwriter’s most widely popular. Perhaps this is because of the anticipation created by Curtains or from the preceding success of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ double album Stadium Arcadium, or maybe this is due to the album’s inevitable relation to the period where Frusciante left the Chili Peppers for the second time. It’s easy to speculate why there was so much buzz about this particular record, but the thing that solidified the hype and ensures the staying power of The Empyrean is, of course, the music itself.

This release is rightly seen as Frusciante’s first real concept album, but it should be said that it is not a piece that can be seen as having a narrative thread or necessarily a cohesive storyline. Furthermore, it would be unwise engage in an attempt to extrapolate the meaning behind these songs or the themes it presents. This would surely be doing the album a serious disservice as The Empyrean will most certainly play differently for each listener.

To put it simply, the record focuses on one’s journey and coming to terms with belief, God, Heaven, Hell, and all that these concepts entail.

The completely visceral approach to this album makes it a particularly difficult album to discuss, and adding to that factor is that it isn’t much like a mainstream pop album or indeed like any of the previous Frusciante records. With the possible exceptions of “Unreachable” or the Tim Buckley cover of “Song of the Siren,” these songs play much less like singles than an integral part of a whole piece of work.

What can be said is that this record is one of the most textured works of the songwriter’s career. With a wide prowess of vocal ranges, styles, and a keen ear for vocal and instrumental effects and layers, The Empyrean is a record that benefits with repeated listening.

The musicianship of this album can also be arguably viewed as a peak in Frusciante’s work. And with guest spots from Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and constant collaborator, Josh Klinghoffer (now also part of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), the music here is further elevated by new players who have added their interpretation of this material and a new layer to an already dense, intricate piece.

The Empyrean stands as Frusciante’s opus, and this is a status that is richly deserved. While a commercially-oriented record like Shadows Collide with People is certainly a more accessible album, The Empyrean can arguably be seen as capturing more of the essence of the songwriter’s essence. Perhaps this record can be interpreted as being just as much of a pure portrayal of Frusciante as it is of its spiritual theme – Deeply complex and unendingly beyond examination. Or should I say “Unreachable”?

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Empyrean
Rating: 5 out of 5

~ Stephen


For more music and movie reviews, podcasts, and more , check out our blog archives and head over to our podcast pages on SoundCloud and iTunes.

And for updates and brief of-the-cuff reviews, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

If you feel extra generous, head over to the PayPal Donate button on the side or bottom of our site.

For more information on John Frusciante and the new EP, head over to his official webpage and check out the fan central for all things Froosh-y, Invisible Movement.