Wednesday, August 31st 2011
Reviews: Red Hot Chili Peppers
California’s own Red Hot Chili Peppers have returned with their 10th studio album I’m With You, the first Chili Peppers album to feature new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaces the departed savant-like six-string wizardry of John Frusciante. John left the band last year, in his wake an incredible void of funk, creative guitar work and soaring falsetto harmonies that any replacement talent would likely fall short of filling the role adequately.
Klinghoffer isn’t just any replacement, however, having toured with the Chili Peppers previously and played with Frusciante for years. His skills lend a different flavor set to the band’s balance, and coupled with assistance from producer Rick Rubin (who’s worked the knobs on the band’s previous five albums), blends nicely into the new formula. He even holds his own on harmonies, though it’s going to be a challenge to train the ears not to anticipate John’s falsettos.
A new formula it is, with a newly intensified focus on the bass and rhythm, shifting from the flamboyance of Frusciante’s guitar work to more groove-oriented designs. I’m With You is, without question, Flea’s most prominent feature album, with the bass monster leading off a great many of the album’s songs and casting a defining color on each of them. Evidence first arrives on Factory of Faith, which kicks off with a pulse-groove bass riff, a snare in quarter-time with a mid-tempo melody that leans towards Kiedis’ rap-sing without ever fully committing. The instrumental jam comprising the final minute is an effects-rich wash of insectile mechanical guitar sounds within the parameters set by bass and drums.
Beautiful acoustics open Brendan’s Death Song, a gentle melody of the heart. The band slowly comes in, building to a beautiful flow that toys with the Cold War Kids’ bombastic percussion-burst dynamic. The climax is incredible, a beautifully cascading set of counter-melodies and percussion with such a lovely, float-on-down finish.
Ethiopia is another Flea liftoff: “We’re rolling everybody… it starts with bass.” An agonizingly enticing slow-beep pacing pulls the track away from Dani California territory, while Anthony does his damnedest to break his own melody formula without breaking the song itself. It’s a slow-funk head-nodder that leads well into yet another bass-led jam in Annie Wants a Baby, an inescapable single, despite the general lack of strength as a link in the chain of the album.
First single The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie works far better in the greater context of the album, as opposed to a singular first impression. Concern had risen from the fact that the cowbell is louder than the guitar, but Josh works his charm by finding his place subtly. There’s never a moment of six-string overpowering, though a general lack of solos on the album leaves a little to be desired. The solo that exists here around the two and a half minute mark doesn’t exactly qualify as much more than a sonic bridge between sections.
Rubin has found a way to build Josh into the backup vocals role without creating a direct contrast to Frusciante’s mark, a remarkable feat given how much of a trademark John’s backups were. Klinghoffer bends genders in Did I Let You Know (while Anthony Kiedis has still got the sex-charge double entendre game cornered: “I’m comin’ for ya cause I adore ya & I’d like to get inside your mass production – this indecision has got me cringin, I can’t resist the smell of your seduction”), the backups sounding more like Pink than anything we’ve heard out of a man on a Chili Peppers record – but a trumpet solo breaks through and steals our attention away before we can chase down the answer. Once again, Flea, jacking our attention.
Josh finally unleashes hell on the guitar during Goodbye Hooray, but it’s too low in the mix to carry real weight – they’re not taking too many big risks with him on his cherry-pop record. Flea owns this bucking rhino rodeo with a bursting bass fiasco. You can draw a direct line between Goodbye Hooray and the boys that crafted Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The post-freakout psychedelic cool breeze breakdown around 2:30 is some serious Gorillaz goodness, with a wailing freakout guitar-solo frenzy in the final 25 seconds.
The jumpy power punch bursts of urgency a title named Police Station brings to mind defy the truth of the song, which is nothing at all like that. It’s pretty, with a One Hot Minute kind of romance unfolding with Tearjerker sentimentality. It’s chilly Autumn romance music with a soaring chorus reminiscent of Venice Queen’s chorus. Think One Hot Minute & By The Way interwoven & trimmed of fat. And that BASS!
There’s a late 60′s stony pre-disco vibe going on in Meet Me at the Corner, a very gentle jam with somber regret tucked inside a gorgeous melody. “Meet me at the corner and tell me what to do, cause I messed up on you, and had I known all that I do now… I guess that we’re through now.” Klinghoffer takes flight with a bluesy solo just before the minute mark, and unexpectedly, a complete Skynyrd finish – something Pearl Jam would pull out of their hat at live shows – unfolds just after we think the song is ending. Surprising colors in the psychedelia. Fantastic.
Dance, Dance, Dance, the final track on I’m With You, has a distinct early reminiscence of Incubus’ The Warmth. But only for a moment – then we get into some punchy hipshaker action, a 2am dance at a beach party with a bottle of red, copious laughter & romance on the horizon. It’s a fun-sex song, a fittingly celebratory end to a beautiful renewal for a handful of guys who’ve persevered through death, addiction, member changeups and all the trappings of a group that’s made a home under the international spotlights for two decades running. Strong. And when the funk blast hits two and a half minutes in, it’s a final shake-it-all rejuvenation, a gear-up before the transcendent singalong finale, a slow final turn into the moonlight.
Much credit is due to Rick Rubin for building a perfect balance on the album, both with Josh’s introduction on guitar and Flea’s intensified prominence in the makeup of the band’s sound. And by the sound of things, we won’t be waiting long for even more new music from the kings of Venice. According to Rubin, the band recorded enough material to release a second double album following Stadium Arcadium, but ultimately decided not to. Rubin notes, “it was painful not to share all of the material that we had, but we felt it would be too much. We really wanted it to be twelve songs but it ended up being fourteen just because nobody could agree on which twelve.”
Ultimately, Im With You strikes the listener on first impact as a double down of effort and focus in the vein of By The Way, far more than the overload of safe style adherence and mass quantity that was Stadium Arcadium. You’ll have to dig deeper to find the radio-smash tracks, but they’re there, and they’ll carry the band through another successful round of touring, sales and prosperity.
And damnit, I don’t think there was one mention of California in the entire album.