Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published September 13th 2011

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

It has taken me a really long time, but I think I’m finally coming to accept the fact that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are getting old. I’ve been stuck in this state of mind where they’re still the self-destructive cokeheads from the late 80s (when I was something like 13 years away from being born). Anyone who loved that phase of the band’s existence, even if you could only experience it through blurry YouTube videos, was quite a bit underwhelmed by Stadium Arcadium– I certainly was. I was convinced that MY Red Hot Chili Peppers wouldn’t so readily abandon the energy and flair that made them so interesting. But it’s time to face the facts: Flea and Anthony Kiedis are 48 years old. Drummer Chad Smith is a year older. And while Anthony and Flea have taken such good care of themselves that they do not yet need to abandon the shirtless image that they made iconic, they are definitely no longer capable of the stage acrobatics they once practiced. For a while I played with the foolish idea that this new record would be a throwback. I thought there was just the slightest chance that some funk would creep back into the music. But in time I’d come to accept that the band is composed of recovering drug addicts and fathers hurtling towards their midlife crises.

All this being said, an aging band doesn’t mean they can’t keep looking for ways to stay fresh. Flea, who has been the busiest of the four, is coming off a revitalizing stint at the University of Southern California studying music theory, composition, and jazz trumpet. He also toured as part of Thom Yorke’s supporting band in the buildup to the Radiohead singer’s headlining spot at Coachella in 2010. They’ve also added a younger face to their ranks. 31 year old Josh Klinghoffer replaced the guitarist most associated with the Chili Peppers, John Frusciante, who left the band (again) to pursue other musical interests. Frontman Anthony Kiedis continues with his tireless training to improve his mediocre singing voice that is so vulnerable when not spewing out the lightning fast rap verses to which he is much more naturally inclined.

It should come as no surprise, in this case, that I’m With You is something completely new from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To be frank, it’s shocking. At the onset of the first track, “Monarchy of Roses,” all I could utter was “Alright, wow. This is different.” It’s at times fuzzy and guttural, and then during the chorus it’s clean, sharp, and… dare I say it… funky!? “Monarchy of Roses” is a very strong new beginning for the Chili Peppers. It’s a completely different (and tamer) groove from anything you’d find on Mother’s Milk, for example, but above everything else, it actually has a hint of that carnal energy that I’ve craved for so long that was so notably absent from Stadium Arcadium. Every time I hear Josh Klinghoffer’s guitar I can’t stop thinking of Dave Navarro’s time with the Chili Peppers for One Hot Minute, their “weird” album. It’s an incredibly refreshing sound, and to be honest, I don’t miss Frusciante’s dexterous improvisations accenting the music.

Following the crescendo of “Brendan’s Death Song” and some fun with time signatures on “Ethiopia,” Kiedis revives his famously clever wordplay on “Look Around,” a track that maintains a strong energy level early in the record. The ninth track, “Goodbye Hooray,” is particularly enjoyable, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ most tangibly animated track since 2002’s “By The Way.”

“Even You Brutus?” ignites with Kiedis shouting with the vigor of an impassioned spoken-word poet over a bouncy piano riff interlaced with Klinghoffer grinding his wah pedal into oblivion.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard from the Chili Peppers and it’s immediately enjoyable. It’s moments like this that make the album worthwhile. It’s not Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Mother’s Milk, or Californication,  but I think everyone knew those days have long sinced passed. It’s such a reversal of the precedent set by Stadium Arcadium that it immediately dispelled the many doubts I’ve harbored over the past few years as to this band’s continuing vivacity.

My complaints are few, but it’s definitely noticeable that Kiedis is quite married to long, drawn out notes in his choruses and he’s at a bit of a loss creatively. While his voice has improved yet again, the content of the lyrics is, as a general trend, disappointing. Kiedis sticks to safe repetition and only rarely ventures into the kind of sharp lyrical monkeying that made him such a potent leader for the band in times past. His vocal arrangements seem a bit like they were cut from the same cookie cutter and the pleasant exceptions are few and far between.

Additionally, while it is very evident that there is a conscious effort to move away from the melodic lull of Stadium, the Chili Peppers are not immune to falling back into those habits. “Police Station,” and “Happiness Loves Company,” stands out for the wrong reasons to me, as tracks that offer very little substance or texture to the record. “Dance, Dance, Dance,” while cute and upbeat, comes off a bit too corny to be a suitable final track.

While I generally appreciate new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer’s gravelly contributions to the record as a texturizer, it seems at times as though he’s lost in between exploring his own creativity and trying to emulate the style of the technically brilliant John Frusciante.  Frusciante was one of the main culprits contributing to Stadium Arcadium’s Barbiturate-effect, but his status as a modern guitar god is undeniable, and Klinghoffer lacks the ability to improvise with the same confidence as Frusciante. Klinghoffer would have been better suited sticking to his own style of grungy undertones and leaving the improvisation to the superlatively gifted Flea, whose trademark slap-bass solos are noticeably absent from the record, although he is definitely more of a player here than he was on Stadium.

This is nowhere close to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ best music, as I think we all expected. It is, however, an honest effort to do something different and on a few tracks, most notably “Monarchy of Roses,” “Goodbye Hooray,” and “Even You Brutus?” there really is some indication of the brilliance that has made this band one of the best and most successful of the past 25 years. So give it a listen. I’m With You is far from an album for the history books, but I’m willing to bet you’ll find moments here and there that you like.

Recommended Tracks: Monarchy of Roses, Goodbye Hooray, Even You Brutus?

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