Red Hot Chili Peppers
I’m With You
Of all the alternative rock bands that made a name for themselves in the 90’s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have had better longevity and commercial viability than almost any of their other counterparts. I suppose Green Day has done alright for themselves commercially including creating their own musical but their music has been worthless since the mid 90’s and Pearl Jam has continued to pump out albums and put on strong live shows, but their albums have been recycled material for the last decade as well. My theory for the Chili Peppers continued success- the chemistry of the four band mates that came with the return of phenomenal lead guitarist John Frusciante from drug addiction for 1999’s Californication and the following albums that embraced pop melodies and feverish guitar and bass play. But now, following Frusciante’s second and likely final departure from the band, the band regroups but can’t recuperate with I’m With You, their latest exercise that finds the Peppers recycling their sound in redundant and uninspired ways.
I’m With You opens on the most energy-charged note of the album in “Monarchy of Roses”, led by Kiedis’s distorted vocals and a crunching Sabbath riff contrasting with a groovy bass line and bright chorus melody, being an appropriate contrast considering the band first coined this song “Disco Sabbath”. This is followed by “Factory of Faith”, which would also be interesting if its roving bass and Kiedis’s lively rhymes weren’t found five other times on this album. Unfortunately, this is about as good as it gets, as I’m With You like most poor/mediocre albums, is fairly frontloaded.
To replace Frusciante, the band brought on Frusciante-disciple and Warpaint guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, a respectable guitarist in his own right who has also toured with the likes of Beck and Gnarls Barkley, but who is nowhere on the level of Frusciante as a guitar player and as a backup vocalist, a role as crucial as any to the band’s success. For example, on the call and response of “Did I Let You Know”, employs a sunny Caribbean feel not short on horns or conga drums but most definitely short on great backup vocals and guitar solos, as Klingoffer comes off as just plain emo with his vocals on the chorus and his conventional guitar solo near the three-minute mark just makes me pine for Frusciante’s guitar gymnastics. “Brendan’s Death Song” also has a guitar-shaped hole, as the rising ballad is missing those great Frusciante Beach Boys-ian backup vocals on the chorus that usually lift their songs to the next level.
The album’s best work is even flawed. “Happiness Loves Company” employs Kinks-ian keyboard and a bright bouncy chorus, but Kiedis feels the need for his token band and location name drops; “Mothers of Invention are the best” and “pumping in the streets of L.A.”. Kiedis’s rhymes have always been full of their fair share of nonsense, but that seemed more acceptable in the 80’s and 90’s when the band was ripping out funky, schizophrenic punk music. Now, with a series of mundane mid-tempo rockers, the nonsensical rhymes sound especially dumb.
A perfect example is “Annie Wants A Baby”, where Kiedis rhymes “Sugar Daddy”, “Loves Her Madly”, “Cosmo Shiva”, and “Lover Kiva”, tenderly as if it means something.
I’m With You reaches its ugliest on the repetitive “Look Around” and miserable closer “Dance Dance Dance”. On “Look Around”, Kiedis repeats “Look Around” and “All Around” so many times, it makes me just want to turn the album off and listen to the better “Around” Chili Peppers song, Californication’s “Around The World”. “Dance Dance Dance” is a scary bad take on Kings of Leon’s moody desert anthems that brought them commercial success. Anytime a seasoned band is mimicking a music fad, it’s never a good sign. In fact, I think Rick Rubin, who again gets production credit for I’m With You, should have to return at least two Grammy’s for this travesty of a song.
If this is indeed the end of the line for the Chili Peppers as worthwhile artists in rock music, one can’t say they haven’t had a good run, both bending genres and making some world-class albums and hits. If it is, here’s one last token location and band shout out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers from the streets of L.A.
Can’t Miss: “Monarchy of Roses”, “Happiness Loves Company”
Can’t Hit: “Ethiopia”, “Annie Wants A Baby”, “Dance Dance Dance”