Chilis still hot as ever
A MILD poblano or a spicy jalapeno?
Funk-aware rock outfit the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back after a five-year break with an album that is leaner and meaner than their last.
The big change is on lead guitar, with virtuoso John Frusciante leaving the band for the second time, replaced by his buddy Josh Klinghoffer.
Klinghoffer has played with Beck, Gnarls Barkley and the Peppers. Whether dishing out a restrained acoustic guitar line or a hard-hitting rock number, his approach is more textural and less inclined to show off than Frusciante. It’s a good fit for the band.
The affect this change has had on the songs is obvious, where a shredding, inventive guitar solo might have been in the past there is now often space for bass player Flea to strut his stuff. So I’m very OK with this.
On every second song here Flea’s irrepressible bass trickery is given a starring role. The spotlight is well deserved; he shines.
The first song written for I’m With You, is also the album’s highlight, Brendan’s Death Song. This heartfelt celebration of the band’s dead friend, punk stalwart, LA club owner and band biographer Brendan Mullen, starts with a rare tender vocal over some light, tasteful acoustic guitar.
The album opener is similarly gritty. Monarchy of Roses kicks off with squealing guitars and raucous feedback. A distorted vocal by singer Anthony Kiedis asks: ‘‘ Do you like it rough, I ask/ And are you up to the task?’’ before the band slides effortlessly into a sunny Californian punk-funk number that somehow blends with the rumbling riffs and stomping drums of the song’s early moments.
A wonderful Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde impersonation is found on Goodbye Hooray. This song doesn’t seem to know if it is a hard rocker or a jazz noodler but each element is as pleasing as the other. It just works.
Kiedis loves to slap some sleaze into his lyrics. There’s nothing approaching the gratuitousness of his Blood Sugar Sex Magik days but he does slip a few Sunset Strip worthy lines about strippers and prostitutes into I’m With You.
A misfire is The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie, a song that makes no sense as a single and compares unfavourably to every single the band has ever released. Boring chorus and a lack of guitars. Even a cool cowbell can’t save this stinker.
Are these Peppers past their use-by date? No. They are charming, blissful, zippy. While I’m With You isn’t exactly vital, it is definitely business as usual for the Peppers – better than good.