Five years after their double-album Stadium Arcadium, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back on the music scene with their latest album I’m With You.
Being the tenth studio album the Red Hot Chili Peppers have made since their formation way back in 1983 (were any of Primo’s readers even born then, or old enough to remember 1983?!), older bands tend to outstay their welcome by trying to hold on to their past glories and look ridiculous trying to compete with bands half their age. Fortunately, the Chilis are an exception, and have no problem keeping up with today’s musical trends while still being true to their original sound.
The main difference between RHCP of five years ago and RHCP today is the departure of guitarist John Frusciante, who was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer. Fans may be hesitant about RHCP having a new guitarist since the last album where they changed guitarist was their 1995 flop One Hot Minute. Some were concerned that this change of line-up would make history repeat itself, but Klinghoffer’s slick guitar playing shows he’s more than worthy of picking up from where Frusciante took off.
I’m With You could be considered a poppy version of the groovy, chilled out Stadium Arcadium. This slight difference in sound does not justify a five year hiatus for the band, especially for an older band whose competition are younger and come out with new albums every two years or less. With all the million of copies of their albums sold, I guess the band believes that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The songs are a mix of funky danceable tracks and bleak ballads, dealing with themes of life and death. Funkier songs such as ‘Factory of Faith’ with its funky bass line makes it the most danceable song on the album and may very well be the album’s third single (don’t be surprised if there’s a dance remix of this playing at clubs soon, if there isn’t already). The album’s first single ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ is both funky and nostalgic, with lyrics like “Hey now, I wanna rock this rowdy crowd” showing they still aim to please audiences, and “Tick tock, I want to rock you like the eighties” is a nod to their long, lucrative career thanks to their two generations of fans. ‘Raindance Maggie’ lets its listeners get their groove on, and plays up the sexual energy of their music (“Cock blocking isn’t allowed”).
On the other hand, the Chilis acknowledge the sadder side of life, especially with singer Anthony Kiedis’s many years battling drug addiction. ‘Police Station’ in particular refers to the shady drug-addled past both Kiedis and many of his girlfriends have been through, and what things junkies do to score their next hit (“I saw you on the back page of some free press yesterday. The driftwood in your eyes had nothing short of love for pay”). ‘Police Station’ has a beautiful piano melody towards the end, highlighting the hopelessness of the song’s protagonists that Kiedis was sadly all too familiar with. ‘Brendan’s Death Song’ and ‘Meet Me At The Corner’ continue this depressing tone, aching over the heartbreak from the death of a loved one and failed relationships respectively.
The main problem with I’m With You is that some songs are too similar (Stadium Arcadium had this problem too). ‘Look Around’ and ‘Did I Let You Know’ have almost exactly the same intro. Almost none of the songs stand out, almost sounding like the same song over and over again, making the album lose momentum around the halfway point. I’m With You fortunately does pick up once the bleaker songs towards the end play.
Some lyrics make no sense whatsoever and seem to be there just because it rhymes well (“I like your cheeky, Oh so Mozambiquey” from ‘Did I Let You Know’), taking away the impact of the more meaningful lyrics (“The nights are long but the years are short when you’re alive” from Brendan’s Death Song). The transition from poignant to silly lyrics and back again is annoying, as the album is not out there enough for the former nor dark enough for the latter.
Despite having been around for nearly 30 years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have lost none of their edge and are still ahead of the curve, though they should not to try repeating themselves too much and aim to be more consistent.
Originally published at primomag.com.au on Sunday 6 November 2011