Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘I’m With You’ – Review

15 Sep

It’s a well-known fact that Red Hot Chili peppers sing about three subjects and only three subjects; sex, drugs and Los Angeles. Don’t believe me, then think of their biggest hits, any of their biggest hits, and you will reach the same conclusion. ‘Give it Away’  and ‘Suck my Kiss’ – sex. ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Scar Tissue’ – drugs. Californication and ‘Tell Me Baby’ – L.A. If you think of a RHCP song that isn’t about one of these subjects then that’s probably because it doesn’t have a subject – this is the fourth category that you can put nonsensical numbers like ‘Can’t Stop’ and ‘Around the World’ in. But they get away with repeating themselves, and the reason that they get away with it  is because they do what they do so well. Anthony Keldis is the best frontman on the planet, Flea is the best bass player and Fruiscante is the best guitarist. In terms of big budget stadium Rock, no one is as good or as much fun as the chili peppers.

Whilst they started as quite an alternative and funky post-punk band, their formula has been the same since the excellent ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magic’ – mid-tempo rockers with generous helpings of funk, and big pop choruses. Albums since have added something a bit different into the mix (‘One Hot Minute’ took them into heavier territory, ‘By the Way’ was more melodically and harmonically inclined, whilst the ambitious double album ‘Stadium Arcadium’ saw them indulging in some of their classic rock tendencies). The corner-stone of these releases (with the exception of ‘One Hot Minute’) was undoubtedly guitar god John Fruiscante, who as I said earlier, is quite possibly the best guitarist on the planet. He is also a killer songwriter, and an essential backing vocalist (his harmonies added layers of depth to recent albums that were non-existent before). The fact that Fruiscante has now been replaced by new kid on the block Josh klinghoffer was certainly cause for concern, but the news of his arrival made me wonder if this would be the album where the Chilis expand their vocabulary, where they explored ideas that had previously been out of bounds. Is ‘I’m With You’ the album where they finally move on from sex, drugs and Los Angeles?

‘Monarchy of Roses’ opens the album with a bang and a small hint that maybe something new is on the horizon. Lyrically it’s a strange and complex song, that may very well be about sex, but equally may well not be – it’s hard to tell. musically it’s a typical Chili Peppers stomper with a bit of edge in terms of some difficult, distorted verses that lead to an impassioned, sing-along chorus; It’s old and new at the same time. But on the next few tracks they revert back to their normal setting; ‘Factory of Faith’, ‘Annie Wants a Baby’ and ‘Look Around’ could have come off any Chili’s album from the past ten years, It’s not that they’re bad (they certainly aren’t) it’s just that they aren’t new or particularly interesting. ‘Police Station’ is sure to be the next single, it does the same job that ‘Snow’, ‘By the Way’, ‘Californication’ and ‘Under the Bridge’ did. Of course it’s not quite as good as any of the above, but it comes close, and maybe that’s all we should be hoping for from them these days.

‘Did I Let You Know’ is a somewhat revelatory ballad for the band, with an off-kilter rhythm, a trumpet solo and lovely, melodic and understated guitar playing and backing vocals from new boy Josh. Oh yes, Josh; to be honest I hardly noticed his presence when I heard the album first time around, as his playing style is so simple that fits into the whole rather than taking over or announcing itself. If you were expecting the guitar heroics of John Fruiscante then this may be a disappointment, but the more you listen the more his subtle little licks start to dig in. It’s clear he’s an accomplished musician, just in a different way to his predecessor (and they were always going to be massive shoes to fill).

Like every Chili Peppers album since the dawn of time, ‘I’m With you’ is too long – considerably too long. It’s not so much that there’s filler, or that any songs aren’t pulling their weight, it’s just that an hour of this is simply too much to handle in one go – for me anyway. By about the fifty minute mark I was a little bored of the whole thing and tunes started bleeding into each other and sounding repetitive.  Two or three tracks should have been shaved off, and I would have chosen the somewhat mundane ‘Happiness Loves Company’ or the plodding ‘Even You, Brutus’.

A lot of the criticism levelled so far at ‘I’m With You’ is that the Chili Peppers sound way too much like the Chili Peppers, as if it would be possible for them to sound like anyone, and as if we would want them to. Chili Peppers do what Chili Peppers were born to do, they are one band you know you can rely upon to deliver, and here they do yet again. It’s fair to say that the band have weathered more storms than any other band on the planet and whether this new formation is a success or not, it seems likely that they will be back with more songs about sex, drugs and Los Angeles. On ‘I’m With You’ they perhaps play it a bit too safe, and the quality seems to be dipping with every album, but whilst this isn’t their best effort it reassures me that the Red Hot Chili Peppers still have plenty of life left in them yet.


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