Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Album: I’m With You
Label: Warner Bros.
The gap between Red Hot Chili Peppers’ most nodal records was a little less than a decade. Nodal, because Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication both happily straddled the void of funk and soft rock. Off the heels of Stadium Arcadium, the 2006 double album that mostly offered half-baked vehicles for guitar solos, I’m With You comes a little over a decade after the band’s last nodal outing, sporting plenty of jams, as fans would have it, but jams built on textured songs, as fans should want it.
Time, new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, or the Spirits (as certain members often cite) might be responsible for the better focus. The production’s a little lighter, the hard hitters shoot into the bloodstream more hermetically than before, and the ballads that have made and doomed Red Hot Chili Peppers are less predictable, like when the band first forayed into soft rock.
New kid Klinghoffer, not as showy as his predecessor, is more mood-driven, coming into the Chili Peppers canon with a disco strut in “Monarchy of Roses”, then knighting himself in that song’s chemical breakdown. When asked to solo over the dense rhythm section, Klinghoffer defers to a chord-based, pedal accentuated glaze. Twice on the record, he sneaks in a jazzy lick, amounting to little more than easy listening on “Meet Me At The Corner”, earning him high honors on “Did I Let You Know”, both which hear him acquiesce lead vocals in a corrupted altar boy tenor. All that said, the record’s real star is veteran Flea, who’s assumed the role of principal songwriter. As Klinghoffer channels a quick-fingered, 18 year-old Frusciante on standout “Look Around”, Flea packs a bass line deserving of his retired stuffed animal pants. And as much as that rewinds, most of the record is a different animal.
It’d be a shame not to acknowledge the summer sounds of “Happiness Loves Company”, Kiedis dotting the i’s of Chad Smith’s big-grinned drumroll into the chorus. It’s the least tonally relevant, but Flea’s incorporation of piano into the band’s four-piece disposition hints growth. A low rhythm is set for the clarion carefulness of Klinghoffer on “Dance, Dance, Dance”. The sparsest entry on the album sounds unlearned and organic like it’s only just come together, Kiedis ad-libbing in his ataractic voice beneath well-lit bangs. In “Police Station”, the singer’s dark (and surprisingly concise) lyrics offset the fever dream guitar, before stepping up to a typical RHCP harumph, save for the addition of Klinghoffer’s vocoder toying.
And truly, I’m With You doesn’t rewrite the band’s habit of writing idiosyncratic verses– slap bass and masturbatory guitar– followed by a pop-addled chorus. But much else is different, due to Flea’s Music Theory education or Klinghoffer’s multi-instrumentalist inclination towards giving a song whatever it calls for. The fourteen tracks aren’t so easily disposable, most of them rendered right for earbuds and a stage in Japan before thousands.
As Klinghoffer and Smith riff off one another at the exit of “Brendan’s Death Song”, the founders take a bow. This could’ve been the album where Old Musician Syndrome incited beer breaks at concerts during new songs. But Flea colors the ending jam of this dirge and Kiedis strains his mutt-like mouth to new highs. As his hook “Like I said, I’m almost dead/ You know, I’m almost gone” runs into Smith’s disassembling drum kit, Kiedis shoots to a note unprecedented by him, suggesting life as much as the boner-incensed “Sex Rap” once did, consoling us that if it’s indeed the end for Red Hot Chili Peppers, the boys will go down swinging.