Half a decade on from Stadium Arcadium‘s sprawling synthesis of bygone styles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have finally returned with their tenth studio album, I’m With You. A much less ambitious effort than their last, I’m With You merely attempts to evolve the style of the ageing LA rock band as they experiment with electro and piano-based rock.
Opening with ‘The Monarchy of Roses’ and ‘Factory of Faith’, a change in sound is immediately apparent, though this seems more to do with the departure of John Frusciante from the band, whose experimental guitar sound has always been a prominent component of the Chilis’ most well-received compositions. In his absence, bassist Michael “Flea” Balzary dominates most tracks, only leaving new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer enough room to tepidly flitter the odd riff around.
Given that he’s worked alongside Gnarls Barkley, Beck, the Chilis themselves and on a number of Fruscinate’s side projects, not to mention that he plays everything from the marimba to the double bass, Klinghoffer undoubtedly has the potential to be an integral component of the band. His contribution on I’m With You comes across as if he is still just playing alongside the Chilis however, creating an unavoidable longing for Frusciante to jump in and tie the discordant noises together.
Whilst I’m nitpicking I’d like to contemplate why the longer Anthony Kiedis has been off hard drugs, the more nonsensical his lyrics become. This is somewhat of a non-point given the vocabulary limitations of the average RHCP fan but for the majority of ‘Ethiopia’ he just makes vowel sounds and claims he is “living the dream of a meteorite” during ‘Happiness Loves Company’…whatever that means.
As with all Chilis albums though, trawl through enough madness and you’ll stumble upon brilliance. Following the death of Brendan Mullen (the LA club owner who gave the band its first break), ‘Brendan’s Death Song’ was written out of some kind of mournful post-mortem jam session. A beautiful slowly building acoustic ballad, the song emphasises the quality of the band’s rhythm section, particularly the drumming of Chad Smith, whose subtle skills are often overlooked.
Other highlights include ‘Meet Me at the Corner’ and ‘Police Station’, found towards the latter half of the album, where the band largely drop their experimental electro-rock pretences and embrace a piano driven noise that plays well off their traditional characteristic rock-funk sound. ‘Police Station’ even manages to put an emotional narrative across and has that ‘Under the Bridge’ feel to it, sounding like the Chilis at their best.
While the tracks towards the end of the I’m With You may somewhat redeem the album, there is still an overwhelming sense that given the wait since Stadium Arcadium, on the whole it doesn’t quite meet expectations. I’m not saying that I’m With You is a bad album; it just could have been so much more.