When Red Hot Chili Peppers announced that their new album would be called I’m With You, I was taken aback. Such nomenclature from a band which has albums named Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication was least expected. The Chilis were already coming back after a huge setback with ace guitarist (and integral component) John Frusciante leaving to pursue a solo career. The new guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer by name, had played with the Chilis before and Beck, Gnarls Barkley and PJ Harvey as well; yet that did not make me any less apprehensive.
After listening to the album, their first in half a decade, my fears have been assuaged. It’s a return to form for the Chilis (that is IF they were out of form). Their last album Stadium Arcadium was a double set of 28 tracks. This time around it’s just 14 tracks but each of them gems.
Red Hot Chili Peppers are one band who have constantly experimented with newer styles and their music now, although bearing their trademark style, is very different from their early pure funk days. Stylistically this is closer to the underrated By The Way but in I’m With You, the Chilis try metal, psychedelic rock, rap, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, funk and most dominant of all, disco. Yes, disco.
And if you’re looking for another Frusciante in Klinghoffer (you shouldn’t be, anyway), you’ll perhaps be disappointed. But let go of all those expectations and you’ll understand what a surreal guitarist Klinghoffer is. He belongs to a different school of guitar than Frusciante, and it fits well into the new Chili Peppers. This is what helps bring Flea to the forefront for the first time since his pre-Mother’s Milk days. Also, Chad Smith, who has played with supergroup Chickenfoot, has gained a lot, helping the Chilis in the long run.
I once read in a review that the only non-hip-hop reason anyone would want to buy a sub-woofer is to listen to Flea. This album ascertains that statement. Album opener Monarchy Of Roses, Factory Of Faith, the first single The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie and many others have Flea’s vivacious and addictive bass acting as the rhythm upon which Anthony Kiedis has written his songs.
Coming to Kiedis’ songwriting, nothing much has changed. Though he does stay away from California this time, at least with respect to mentioning it. Bass-heavy (once again) Ethiopia starts off with “E I O I E I A”. But there are sensible ones too. Brendan’s Death Song is probably one of the best songs they’ve written. An ode to late Chilis friend Brendan Mullen, who supported them during their initial days, with lyrics that go “Like I said you know I’m almost dead / you know I’m almost gone / And when the drummer drums / he’s gonna play my song / to carry me along”, it is a poignant effort from the Chili Peppers.
The varied instruments used on this album add to its rich nature. There’s cowbell on The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie, handclaps on Look Around, trumpet on Did I Let You Know, a number to which you would want to do the salsa, and piano on tracks like the sugary-sweet Happiness Loves Company and hip-hop fuelled Even You, Brutus?
Yet, it is the bass that invigorates this album. Chad Smith too works wonders here, mind you; his drumming has never been better. But it is Flea who has taken over the pedestal from Frusciante. His bass is on another level altogether (try the bass solo in Goodbye Hooray). He has energised Kiedis too. You wonder whether it is Flea playing to Kiedis on Look Around (Just a lot of words on an old brick wall / rob a lot of banks got a pedigree scrawl) or the other way around. These two have been there since the band’s inception and it comes across that they understand each other in and out.
Which brings us to Josh Klinghoffer. He prefers not to play the heavy riffs which Frusciante has made us used to. Many felt that The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie had a severely watered down riff. But if you listen to this album with headsets on, then you will realise that Klinghoffer has many other tricks up his sleeve. He’s the one who doesn’t lead but accentuates whatever the rest have come up with. His layered guitar makes for beautiful melodies. And he is not averse to playing second fiddle to the rest. But we haven’t spoken about the secret instrument that his voice is. Providing backing vocals on most of the tracks on the album, his high-pitched, almost feminine voice brings an elegant charm to Kiedis’ rough and fast vocals.
The final track on the album Dance, Dance, Dance is another disco beat song. Kiedis hypnotises everyone to get in on the act and “Dance, dance, dance, dance / All night long, yes all night long.” It’s a lot of fun that these guys have been having and it’s apparent. They’ve invited us to the party. Are you with them?
Written by Runcil Rebello.