Red Hot Chili Peppers Gone Mild
Ross Finney | Thursday, September 8, 2011
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are back in business with “I’m With You,“their newest album since 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium.” While the band is still bringing the kick, something’s missing.
In 2009, the Peppers lost guitarist John Frusciante, and his absence leaves otherwise solid tracks with a little more to be desired. His chops, owing as much to D. Boon as to Hendrix, consistently anchored the wild group known for bass-player Flea’s off the wall funk and singer Anthony Kiedis’s tendency to fall into non-sensical pseudo-rap. His licks were creative and catchy enough to make something special out of even the most down-beat ballads, and his presence is missed.
Replacement guitarist Josh Klinghoffer does an admirable job trying to fill such big shoes, but his playing is a bit more subdued. Klinghoffer doesn’t bring the memorable riffs that make older songs like “Under the Bridge” or “Scar Tissue” instantly recognizable. However, on the album’s funkier tracks, like “Goodbye Hooray,” he keeps up well and keeps it tight, which is impressive given the other Peppers’ 20 plus years of practice with each other.
The album’s lead single, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” is one of the songs that could benefit from a Frusciante lick but is a prime example of the Chili Peppers doing what they do best. With funky sing-speak verses and the kind of sing-along chorus the group is known for, the track is sure to become a favorite among the group’s repertoire.
Thematically the song is the spiritual successor to “Dani California,” the title character Maggie being another of Kiedis’s ethereal women whose stories become displays of his lyrical prowess. In this same way much of the album is a continuation of themes and ideas, both lyrical and musical, explored on other RHCP albums, but it is generally more mature in outlook. Whether that’s a good thing is up for debate.
One striking example of the group’s maturity comes from the standout track “Brendan’s Death Song.” Written about the recently deceased Brendan Mullen, one of the key players in the Los Angeles punk scene who gave the Peppers their first big break, the track builds from a somber funeral march to an all-out jam.
Lyrically, the song is one of the group’s best, and it benefits from Klinghoffer’s driving guitar, cleverly kept in the back of the mix by Rick Rubin, who keeps up his collaboration with the group going back to “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.”
Other notable tracks include “Police Station” and “Happiness Loves Company,” the former of which is another great example of the group’s lyrical maturity while the latter probably has a better hook for the chorus than the lead single, and perhaps the strongest hook on the album.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers take the departure of a crucial member in stride and have managed to put out a very solid if not exactly flashy album that is concise and consistent, especially compared to the sprawling “Stadium Arcadium.” While fans of the group’s older, wilder punk-funk might see this as yet another disappointment, rock ‘n’ roll fans who have kept up with the group’s evolution over the years will be more than satisfied.