A confession to begin with: My relationship with Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) begins and ends with their genre-breaking 1999 album Californication. That is not to say I’ve not heard their other releases—from 1991’s Bloodsugarsexmagik to the 2005 double-disc Stadium Arcadium—I’ve heard them all, but nothing they’ve done before or after Californication has really matched up.
John Anthony Frusciante’s haunting, fractured and innovative guitar solos coupled with Flea’s evolved, dynamic and punchy basslines on Californication were a frenzied, difficult, and poignant love affair that lifted the album far beyond its genre. How do you ascend once you’ve reached that peak? To RHCP’s credit, they have not tried to walk the same path again, going back to basics with Stadium Arcadium, and now, six years after that double feature, with their 10th studio album I’m with You. In between, Frusciante left the band in 2009, and was replaced with guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who has worked with Beck and Gnarls Barkley. I’m with You wastes no time in setting the tempo, with the first track, Monarchy of Roses, opening with a wailing cacophony of guitar feedback (think Jimi Hendrix) and singer Anthony Kiedis’ voice bubbling up from a mess of blues. Then the song does a clever switch, slipping seamlessly into a foot-tapping and infectious disco-rock fusion with Dylanesque lyrics: “The cross between her former queen/Her legendary stare/The holy tears of Ireland/A lovely cross to bear.”
Red Hot Chilli Peppers: From left to right, Anthony Kiedis, Josh Klinghoffer, Flea, Chad Smith
With astounding song-craft gymnastics that showcase the band’s immense and varied talent, and their almost 30-year experience in the business, RHCP immediately slip back to old school in the next track, Factory of Faith—rapped vocals, fast, funky drum and bass—the only thing missing? Frusciante’s tastefully surreal and layered guitar work.
Klinghoffer does not make much of a mark, and perhaps that’s to be expected when you are a newcomer to a band whose other members have been working together for two decades, since 1989. Kiedis, Flea, and drummer Chad Smith are in their element in this album, spewing out trademark RHCP songs—energetic and groovy, sophisticated and punk-soaked all at once. You have to give it to them—in terms of staying power, no rock band can match up to them.
Ethiopia and The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie are the best examples of the trademark RHCP sound on I’m with You: Heavy doses of funk, the driving rhythm and the main focus, led by Flea’s bopping, bouncing lines, and complemented by staccato vocals and soaring, pop choruses.
The cover art for I’m with you is by controversial British artist Damien Hirst
Predictable, but at least it’s not tepid.
Hip hop and reggae rhythms are also thrown in here and there to keep things moving in the album, but you’ve to wait till track 13, Meet Me at the Corner, for a real gem in a sea of same-old, same-old. Klinghoffer is at his best in Meet Me at the Corner, with some textured and tonal guitar work and arpeggiated riffs. Flea layers on both melody and rhythm with his bass, and there is a strong harmonic structure to the song that lifts it above the ordinary.