Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You - Review

The new album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is their first in five years and their first record without guitarist John Frusciante. Of course Frusciante had departed from the band once before, only to rejoin them a few years later to make the classic 'Californication' album and the highly successful follow-up 'By The Way'. Those two albums seemed to represent a second coming for a band who a lot of people thought were dead and buried. But now the Chilis are once again without Frusciante and have filled his place with Josh Klingoffer, who was apparently the band's long-time guitar tech. 

Tellingly this album doesn't focus on the guitar work too much, perhaps the band wanted to ease their new recruit in gently. Instead the group's famously airtight rhythm section takes centre stage, with Flea's basslines particularly prominent. Opening track 'Monarchy Of Roses' kicks in with distorted guitar and vocals before entering into a familar and brightly funky chorus, making for quite a promising opener. Second track 'Factory Of Faith' is possibly this album's highlight, centred around an infectious funk bassline and just the right amount of light guitar licks while Chad Smith's drumming remains as tight as ever. And unlike a lot of the tracks here it's a memorable tune and could have easily ended up on a 'Greatest Hits' album. 'Brendan's Death Song' is rather lovely, beginning with simplistic acoustic guitar before building into a big touching chorus. However after the first three tracks the quality drops with the rather uncomfortable sounding 'Ethiopia' which just sounds like a weak retread of 'Can't Stop'.... the bassline is strong, the percussion is again perfectly precise, but the vocals come across as self parody and after an uncertain verse the chorus falls completely flat. 'Annie Wants A Baby' has a similar problem despite the rhythm section doing their very best to breathe some life into the unremarkable melody. Thankfully 'Look Around' is much better, a smart slice of Sly Stone-style funk and a fine example of how well the Chilhi Peppers can do things when all the best ingredients fall neatly into place. It took a few listens for the single to make an impact but after a few plays the awfully titled 'Adventures Of Raindance Maggie' proves itself to be a good choice of lead track with its excellent percussion and singalong chorus. 

Sadly things dip again with 'Did I Let You Know', which suffers from weak songwriting and another unconvincing chorus despite the presence of some exciting free jazz horns in the middle. 'Goodbye Hooray' however is a great improvement, a rather chaotic and funky number that provides the album with its most dramatic and exciting moment. 'Happiness Loves Company' is an interesting departure with shades of The Beatles in the skipping bounce of the rhythm and even a hint of 90's Britpop, but melodically is pure RHCP. However like most of these songs the chorus is far from vital, and comes across as Chili Peppers by-numbers. 'Police Station' is probably meant to be the record's big epic but despite a warm charming bridge, the verse and chorus have very little impact and the song drags along in a rather mundane fashion. 'Even You, Brutus' is an unsuccessful stab at hip hop, while 'Meet Me On The Corner' is pleasantly melancholic and unlike a lot of the tracks builds into something positive that gives the feeling that they put a bit more effort into this one. The album ends with 'Dance Dance Dance''s carnival rhythms and subtle guitar effects, but again the songwriting is somewhat unremarkable and as a closing track it doesn't finish the record in a convincing fashion.

Out of the 14 tracks I can pick out five songs that can stand up to the best of the band's previous output, but this group do have a bit of a reputation for always making their albums a few tracks too long. This time however there is far too much filler, suggesting that perhaps they were struggling for quality material and just decided to record whatever they had available rather than taking their tme to make most of these songs stronger. But after five years is this really the best record they could have come up with? Don't get me wrong, not one track on this record sounds bad but sadly at least half of it sounds like music that could blend into the background without attracting too much attention. One positive thing is at least it isn't as over-long and bloated as its double-album predecessor 'Stadium Arcadium', but nevertheless the Red Hot Chili Peppers clearly need to regain their sense of quality control. 6/10

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