“We’re rolling everybody. It starts with bass.”
The opening lyrics of “Ethiopia,” a moving ballad from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ tenth studio album, I’m With You, could also sum up the current state of the band.
Coming off the grandiose double-disc Stadium Arcadium, the Chili Peppers had plans to make a more digestible 12-track rock record. It seemed they had fulfilled every fantasy on Stadium, mixing their signature funk with the more layered, melodic sound they’d been moving toward for years.
The record was especially a coming out party for guitarist John Fruscinate, who ditched his “less is more” approach for a full electric assault, unleashing solos with the same ferocity as his live performances. But after a grueling world tour Frusciante abandoned the idea of a band entirely, and once again walked out the door.
Enter Josh Klinghoffer: multi-instrumentalist, session musician, and friend and collaborator of Frusciante’s. Between 2004 and 2009 the pair teamed up to produce six of Frusciante’s solo albums in addition to starting the band Ataxia, which released two records of its own. Klinghoffer also toured with the Chili Peppers during the last leg of the Stadium Arcadium tour, contributing backup guitar, keyboards and vocals.
Make no mistake, this is a totally different band. Where Frusciante lets music pour from his body, crafting melody through emotion, Klinghoffer prefers to poke holes with a more technical, subtle style.
Losing Frusciante the second time around could have torn the band apart, but instead it turned them into a tighter unit, forcing each member to dig deep and find focus.
The result is the band’s most cohesive effort since 1999’s Californication. On previous records many songs were standouts, but they had a tendency to feel disconnected from one another. Here each song builds and transitions seamlessly, and the tracklist seems more structured and thought out.
A lot of that has to do with the continuous progression of frontman Anthony Kiedis. Vocally he has never sounded stronger, and lyrically he continues to delve into new territory. Kiedis also has more command over the song structure. In the past he would work his delivery around the instrumentation, but here he drives the direction of the songs, with tracks like “Ethiopia” and “Factory of Faith” hinging on his vocals.
With Frusciante out of the equation, bass and percussion propel the album. Always the glue and driving force, Flea attacks with renewed purpose, seeming revived in his role as bandleader and instigator.
Locked in the passenger seat is Chad Smith, who lays down his most hammering beats, creating powerful grooves and a flurry of funk. The band also enlisted a pair of percussionists for the live recording sessions to play bongos and cowbell and help conjure African tribal rhythms.
Klinghoffer proves to be a near-perfect replacement and is able to imitate many of the things Frusciante does best—complementary rhythms, falsetto vocals and chilling guitar solos—while adding his own intricate, textured style of playing. While he doesn’t have the same emotional gravity, solos on “Did I Let You Know” and “Goodbye Hooray” sound eerily like Frusciante, and his backing vocals, particularly on “Meet Me at the Corner,” really resonate.
I’m With You is by far the Chili Peppers’ most upbeat album. Where the focus used to be on addiction and loneliness, this record is all about love, spirituality, and the power of family. “Monarchy of Roses” starts the record off like a meandering monster. Flea’s bass is a bludgeon to the skull, pulsating between chopstick drums and distorted guitar. But it’s the album’s swan song that’s guaranteed to be a live staple. “Dance, Dance, Dance” does exactly what its title begs, as every instrument works in perfect harmony to make you want to boogie down.
Reinvention is nothing new for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and neither is skepticism. Instead of making what should have been their crowing jewel with Frusciante, the band was forced to make another statement record. But that isn’t such a bad thing. By having to prove themselves all over again, it feels like they’re only getting started.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You Tracklist:
- “Monarchy of Roses”
- “Factory of Faith”
- “Brendan’s Death Song”
- “Annie Wants a Baby”
- “Look Around”
- “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”
- “Did I Let You Know”
- “Goodbye Hooray”
- “Happiness Loves Company”
- “Police Station”
- “Even You Brutus?”
- “Meet Me at the Corner”
- “Dance, Dance, Dance”