When, over the course of the a thirty year career, you’ve seen close personal friends die, you’ve overcome heroin addiction countless times, and you’ve said hello and goodbye to grand total of seven guitarists, you’d think four years spent at home with the family away from the temptations of the road would be a relief.
For the Red Hot Chili Peppers what actually equates to a four-year holiday is the sternest test of their careers so far. The Chili Peppers’ music and their greatest achievements have always been born out of chaos; whether it was the anarchy of L.A’s punk scene or nihilistic misery, and hedonistic heights of addiction, the band’s foundations were built on a bed of restless turmoil.
Overcoming the mundane continuum of day-to-day life isn’t the only stumbling block facing the Californian legends; the band must survive and thrive without John Frusciante. The Chilis may be accustomed to seeing guitarists come and go, but no single axe man has defined and unified the funk-rock outfit in the way that Frusciante did. The artistic maverick played lead on the Chilis five best albums, shaping their now familiar sound, and when he stepped away from the band in 1993; we were left with the diabolically inconsistent One Hot Minute.
Stadium Arcadium, the Chilis uber successful double album, was Frusciante’s baby. His guitar dominated, crystalizing’s the band’s sound and salvaging the Chili’s most wayward offerings. His spiraling solo’s became the band’s calling card, and Keidis’ cry of “Clean it up Johnny” which preceded the album’s umpteenth killer solo became the record’s enduring leitmotif.
It is perhaps refreshing to report, then, that disaster has been averted and I’m With You is very much in line with the Chilis stadium conquering latter day output. Naturally enough, new guitarist Josh Kilinghoffer is practically anonymous, offering gentle textures and squeaks, letting loose only occasionally. The Chilis instead fall back on their soft-funk roots. Flea’s basslines are granted renewed prominence on the eminently catchy “Factory Of Faith”, “Ethiopia”, and lead single “The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie”.
Vocalist Kiedis picks up where he left on Stadium Arcadium moving further away from the frenzied blurts of “Fight Like A Brave” and “Can’t Stop”, in favour of the soothing verse structures of “The Zephyr Song” and “Snow ((Hey-Oh))”. Sadly, he can never quite match the incestuously catchy hooks of By The Way and Calfornication, instead supplying a string of drifting, and genuinely heartfelt melodies.
The clear standout is “Brenden’s Death Song”, a tribute to founder of the L.A punk scene and the man who gave the Chilis their first big break. It’s a wonderfully judged work that marries mythical imagery to deeply personal, fleeting, snapshots into the life of a cherished human being. Drifting from hushed tones of sympathetic acceptance to the bustling, fear inducing, dark clouds of death, the track explodes for one divine final chorus that Klinghoffer compliments with some deftly understated guitar work.
Without risking disappointment, I’m With You ambles along in a charming fashion over the course of fourteen thoroughly pleasant tracks, never threatening to scale the heady heights of “Brenden’s Death Song”. There is a distinct lack of ambition on display. Klinghoffer rarely challenges the Chili Peppers who seem content jamming within their well-established boundaries; never pushing out, never innovating, but never floundering either.
I’m With You is the work of three incredibly accomplished artists neither prepared to take the next leap forward, nor content to let superstardom slip through their fingers. Will craftily playing it safe be enough to satisfy one of the world’s largest fanbases? Only time will tell.
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