The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a band that don’t need any introduction. Even if you have lived under a rock for the past two decades, you’ve still heard mention of the Peppers. From the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik back in 1991 through the huge Stadium Arcadium in 2006, the Peppers have been releasing their unique brand of funky rock that has yet to be matched.
It was more than just the music that made them such a great band though: it was the chemistry between the four members. Chad Smith was the backbone, providing steady drum beats that could explode in a second, with John Frusciante’s guitar setting the framework of each song. Then there’s Flea, one of the most iconic bassists in rock history, who can make any song exceptional with his swift and lively bass lines. But who would the Peppers be without Anthony Kiedis, the voice that can convey any emotion? Since we all first heard Under the Bridge on the radio in the 90s, his voice has been the defining factor of the Peppers.
For the second time in two decades, Frusciante jumped ship after Stadium Arcadium, leaving them broken and on a hiatus. But with the help of their new friend Josh Klinghoffer on guitar, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are officially back with their new record I’m With You, their newest since 2006. Many fans are worried about the loss of Frusciante crippling the band, but are these worries valid? Whether it’s a return to form or not, their newest album is a fine addition to their extensive discography.
This wasn’t my first impression, however, as the album starts with two of the more boring songs to be found. Monarchy of Roses, although great on the first listen, is really only powered by nostalgia and Flea’s magnificent bass playing. Before I start repeating myself, I’ll just preface the rest of the review by saying that Flea’s work excels on each and every song on the album, and will no longer have a fangasm over it. Next up is Factory of Faith, which sort of slides its way through its playtime, never making much of an impression. The rhythm is constant and gets boring pretty fast.
Luckily, after these first two snoozefests, Brendan’s Death Song kicks in, starting a streak of songs that range from “pretty good” to “awesome”. Starting on a slower note, the song builds to a steady pace that explodes towards the end, creating one of the better songs on the album. The lyrics also explore some of the underlying themes found on I’m With You, mostly life and death.
Following up on a more energetic note, Ethiopia makes good use of some funky bass and percussion to become one of the aforementioned “awesome” songs, while Annie Wants A Baby creeps along with some technical guitar noodling that especially stands out on this track. Both songs feature repetitive choruses, but rather then getting old fast, they both manage to get stuck in your head.
One of my personal favorites on the album, Look Around is as frantic as they come, with Kiedis rapping the verses and culminating in yet another catchy/repetitive chorus. Although a few lyrical missteps take away from it (“Hustle here, hustle there/hustle me bitch and you best beware”), it still stands as a pretty solid track that showcases Kiedis’ versatility with his voice.
The first single off of the album, The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie, is a little more like old Peppers than other songs, with some psychadelic music to back Kiedis’ crooning. Klinghoffer in particular shines here, as he finds a way to make his guitar lines fit perfectly with Smith’s bouncy drum beat. This was definitely a great choice for a single as it hearkens back to the glory days of the Peppers.
The next three tracks zoom by as they pick up the pace to keep the middle of the album from getting stale. Did I Let You Know features guest vocals from Klinghoffer that, although feminine sounding, are perfect for matching up with Kiedis. I personally would love to here him do more backup vocals. Next up is Goodbye H0oray, another one of those “pretty good” songs that really only stands out for the furious guitar solo that burns through the middle. Finishing up this pack is Happiness Loves Company, a nice little tune that features a jaunty piano as the backbone. This small variation makes a big difference and makes this song one to come back to.
To slow things down, Police Station makes an appearance. This is definitely the highlight of the album and the strongest song to be found here. Everything here works as well individually as they do when put together, especially once the band lets loose and Kiedis lets his voice soar during the chorus. The introspective lyrics are perfect for the music and are hard to forget (“I saw you on a TV station and it made me wanna pray/An empty shell of loveliness is now dusted with decay”). This is definitely the defining moment of I’m With You.
Finishing off the album are three more songs that aren’t too memorable compared to other tracks. Even You Brutus? brings back the piano for another catchy tune that finds Kiedis shouting through the verses but then reverting back to his laid-back singing tone. The last two tracks, Meet Me At The Corner and Dance, Dance, Dance finish the album off on a slower note, with the latter standing out the most. Smith’s drumming steals the show yet again, and the album finishes on a pretty high note.
No one can say that I’m With You is a disappointment, because it’s just not. It’s a great addition to the Peppers’ anthology, and it has some really experimental songs that push the band to their limits. I’m With You manages to retain the flavor that keeps the Red Hot Chili Peppers hot, but also steps out and take chances, most of the time with positive results. This being said, there are a few songs that lose their appeal after a few listens (“Monarchy Of Roses”, “Meet Me At The Corner”) and some lyrics that aren’t as strong as they could be.
But aside from these small mistakes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have crafted a CD that makes up for their loss of Frusciante. I’m With You is evidence that despite this setback, the Peppers are ready to move on and expand their already incredible sound. So what if it can’t stand up to classics like Californication or Blood Sugar Sex Magik? It comes close enough to still be an enjoyable return for fans both new and old.