By: Jennifer Wakefield
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have come a long way from performing onstage wearing nothing more than strategically placed tube socks, and their latest release, I’m With You, has this fan begging them to return to the days when they focused more on the music and less on the package (no pun intended). Although I’m With You contains some truly remarkable tracks, overall the album lacks cohesion and direction, and at times seems as though it were produced solely to get airplay.
It has been almost six years since the Peppers released their last album, Stadium Arcadium, which was both a critical and commercial success. During their hiatus, guitarist John Frusciante left the band to pursue other projects. The Peppers filled the hole in their lineup with sessions guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. I’m With You documents the band’s struggle to replace Frusciante’s hard-rocking in-your-face guitar melodies with Klinghoffer’s minimalist, experimental style. At times, Klingohffer’s guitar blends seamlessly with the Peppers and breathes new life into the band, but in many tracks it feels as though Klinghoffer is nothing more than a studio guitarist whose music fades into the background, often overpowered by front-man Anthony Kiedis’ charismatic vocals and Flea’s technical prowess on the bass.
Another hurdle the Peppers had to contend with was time. The band has been making music for almost three decades now, and in recent years their sound has become somewhat stagnant. Like Stadium Arcadium, I’m With You relies heavily on formulaic, perfectly produced songs to the point where some tracks feel too polished and too tailored for radio audiences. The gritty, cocky style of Bloodsugarsexmagik (released in 1991) is long gone, replaced by toned-down tracks with less overtly sexual lyrics, perfect for commercial airplay.
Although many of the songs feel rambling and unimpressive, there are some standouts on I’m With You. The album opens with “Monarchy of Roses,” a perfectly executed track that weaves the Peppers’ trademark groovy funk sound with menacing guitar riffs and distorted vocals. The bass-slapping, driving beats, and well-placed synthesizer will make even the laziest law student want to get off the couch and dance. “Brandon’s Death Song” begins as a ballad and crescendos into a thundering tribute to a fallen friend. “Look Around” punctuates Kiedis’ trademark rapping with disco handclaps and bouncing drumbeats, and is sure to get all the kids moving at their live show. “Did I Let You Know?” combines jazz horns with Latin drumbeats, creating one of the most interesting tracks on the album.
Overall, the Chili Peppers have still got it. There will be an inevitable period of adjustment as the band tries to incorporate a new guitarist into their style, but I’m hoping that once they find their groove with Klinghoffer, the Peppers will get out of the studio, put their tube socks on and rock like it’s 1989.