Like it or not, Red Hot Chili Peppers
have a finely honed, insanely hook-heavy sound that makes them just about inescapable on rock radio. You can complain that they keep putting out the same album every four years or so, but the truth is that same album keeps working. I’m With You
, their first disc since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium
, finds the band working with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer after the departure
of longtime member John Frusciante, but RHCP’s musical DNA remains largely intact, resulting in another album of precisely polished (if a bit familiar) tunes about survival and regret.
A Laid-Back Vibe
Like Foo Fighters
, who also returned this year with a safe-but-satisfying release (Wasting Light
), Red Hot Chili Peppers are respected industry veterans, Grammy favorites, and blockbuster artists. And like Dave Grohl’s band, this Los Angeles quartet have to endure criticism that they long ago shed any sense of danger from their music for a radio-ready accessibility that’s neutered their attack. I’m With You
won’t change people’s mind on that front, but while RHCP can be accused of repeating the same sonic mannerisms of past efforts, it’s a wholly engaging, fresh collection of tunes. Led by shaman-esque lead singer Anthony Kiedis, the Peppers don’t try to reinvent the wheel with Klinghoffer. Instead, a laid-back, lightly funky L.A. vibe permeates these 14 songs, presenting the band as elder statesmen balancing happiness and melancholy as they deal with life in their late 40s.
Familiar Yet Potent
Of course, this thematic and musical approach has dominated RHCP’s material since 1999’s Californication
, and there’s very little on I’m With You
that would have felt out of place on that record or their subsequent ones. But if the techniques don’t surprise, the underlying emotions remain vibrant and deeply felt. The first single, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” possesses the same beach-bum groove as many previous RHCP tracks, but it’s impressively buoyant in its own right. And while Kiedis long ago realized his supple voice worked wonders on ballads, his singing on “Brendan’s Death Song,” about recently deceased
L.A. club owner Brendan Mullen, is incredibly heartfelt. Matching his intensity, the rest of the band deliver an acutely emotional performance, segueing from an acoustic opening to a more rocking middle section and finale. Elsewhere, Kiedis dips into his rapping/singing bag of tricks, and bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith give the album a swinging rhythm section that flirts with reggae and funk. All this you’ll know from earlier RHCP albums, but the incredible consistency of their songwriting and musicianship is striking.
Forming a Bond With Their Audience
When Red Hot Chili Peppers first emerged in the 1980s, they flaunted their hedonistic, edgy style, which dabbled in punk and funk. Now in 2011, these guys are graying pros, singing songs about what it’s like to be alive much longer than most of their earlier fans could have possibly imagined. (Indeed, the band’s mid-‘80s guitarist Hillel Slovak died from a heroin overdose in 1988.) That melancholy, slightly nostalgic tone to the band’s material can sometimes come across as expertly constructed shtick, but the title of the band’s new album is telling. Whether it’s the complicated emotions felt for an old flame on “Police Station,” the slightly jazzy, slightly country heartbreak of “Meet Me at the Corner,” or the defiantly joyous “Happiness Loves Company,” I’m With You
is about finding a community and establishing a bond between the singer and the listener. A cliché, perhaps, but with longtime producer Rick Rubin
behind the boards once again, RHCP make sure that connection stays genuine.
In its worst moments, I’m With You
is overlong and overly reminiscent of past glories. But even those weaker tracks have their own modest pleasures. For better or worse, Red Hot Chili Peppers know exactly how to serve their humongous audience, which means permanently alienating those who only see their approach as formulaic. Conventional though it may be in some regards, I’m With You
just keeps delivering one crafty tune after another. Not only are these guys survivors, they’re melodic and musical war horses. We’ll be hearing these songs on the radio nonstop until the next Peppers record, but it’s a good bet they’ll keep sounding great.
'I’m With You' - Best Tracks:
“Brendan’s Death Song” (Purchase/Download
“Police Station” (Purchase/Download
“Meet Me at the Corner” (Purchase/Download
“Look Around” (Purchase/Download
“The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” (Purchase/Download
Release date – August 30, 2011