RHCP guitarist John Frusciante delivers

Kevin Speirs

Experimental concept albums with multiple songs stretching into the eight and nine-minute mark are usually difficult to grasp.

Somehow on his 10th full-length album, John Frusciante, guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, manages to transform one of these pieces into a relatively catchy album also filled with a few simple pop songs.

“The Empyrean” opens with the instrumental “Before the Beginning.”

Starting with a slow chord progression, Frusciante solos for about seven and a half minutes, with a guitar sound reminiscent of Pink Floyd.

Next Frusciante covers Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren.”

An electric, spacey organ and nasal vocals offer a hauntingly stark contrast to Buckley’s acoustic guitar and smooth, deep voice.

“The Empyrean” has a mix of classically styled songs with catchy hooks and tastefully written melodies, as well as entirely experimental pieces that require three or four listens before being able to fully enjoy them.

Some songs have both elements. “Unreachable,” a six-minute track, starts off like any other song: verse, chorus, verse, bridge.

Halfway through, most of the music drops out, and Frusciante plays a solo filled with futuristic effects until the song finally ends.

The bright spot on the album is “Dark/Light.”

Starting off with gentle piano and Frusciante’s echoed vocals, the song eventually falls into what seems to be the ending, when an up-tempo electronic beat comes in, and Frusciante and Donald Taylor split the vocals with a Motown-esque feel.

The song eventually ends with the New Dimension Singers on a chorus loop.

Although Frusciante held most of the creativity and ideas for the album, he had plenty of help from many great musicians including his Chili Peppers bandmate Flea and guitarist Johnny Marr.

On “Enough of Me,” Marr plays lead guitar, and if he were not the one playing, most would question the ability and skill involved in the unusual solo.

Frusciante is at the point in his career where he is under no pressure to make anything for anyone other than himself. He took a chance with a difficult subject matter and experimental idea.

“The Empyrean” sounds as if he is simply trying to have fun making music, drawing from various influences.

“The Empyrean” is not an easy listen, but given enough listens, the album becomes better and better.

Perhaps when listening, take Frusciante’s advice when he said, “It should be played as loud as possible and it is suited to dark living rooms late at night.”