Well, how about it folks? Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band once famous for going on stage and wrapping socks around their nobs, are still gamely bashing out rock numbers in the 4th, yes 4th, decade of their existence. You’ve got to admire their stamina, if nothing else.
I know this will come as news to no-one but I might as well spell it out… the Chilis of 2011 are far from the attention-arresting, sock swinging band they once were. Yep, I’m afraid so. These days you’ll find those socks are safely tucked away inside their lavishly expensive footwear. In fact, I bet there will be many listeners that, after dozing through their latest marathon of a record, will be calling for Kiedis and his Californian cronies to just put a sock in it altogether.
But since there is no sign of them doing that, we might as well get stuck into analysing their 10th studio LP, I’m With You.
I’ll be honest, there’s not much I can say about I’m With You that hasn’t been said elsewhere. Phrases such as “playing it safe”, “overly polite”, “inoffensive”, “wearing thin”, “business as usual”, and “going through the motions” say it all; the Chilis are just not as vital as they used to be. They may sound pretty much the same – they still build staggering rock tracks and Kiedis still makes about as much sense as a street-bum who has necked off five too many Special Brews – but they seem to have absent-mindedly misplaced the gripping immediacy that marked them out in the high points of their career.
And, before you say it, I don’t put this down to the testing loss of acclaimed guitarist John Frusciante. I was already yawning to the Chili Peppers back in 2006, during the long hard slog that was Stadium Arcadium, and Frusciante clearly featured heavily on that.
I’m also keenly aware that RHCP are, and always have been, a majorly divisive band. For all their millions of followers, I also know a ton of people who have been especially irritated by them for well over a decade. Well, I’m here to tell you, I’m no hater. I can’t hate a band that made an album as uniformly good as Californication, it’s just not possible. Feel free to balk, but I consider it one of the best rock records of the last 20 years. And By The Way was none too shabby either, if inconsistent and, at 68 minutes long, somewhat of a chore to get through… a maddening feature of all Chili releases this century unfortunately.
I mean, who the hell keeps deciding these RHCP records have to be so long anyway? I’m With You clocks in at 60 minutes when, really, its most interesting moments total a mere quarter of this time.
Chief among these better moments is Brendan’s Death Song, which builds stirringly as it moves through various verse and chorus progressions, starting out with a graceful acoustic intro and climaxing on some creditable guitar shredding from new member Josh Klinghoffer. Apart from that, Monarchy of Roses is a sprightly, purposeful opener and Flea’s squelchy bass solo during Goodbye Hooray also summoned me out of a slouch, but the rest of it I was content to snooze through. There are moments where they experiment with the likes of pianos and trumpets – someone please tell me what they were aiming for with piano plonker Happiness Loves Company – but backed by their tried and tested rock formula, even these efforts feel too safe to inspire much emotion.
Having said that, I’m sure the Chili’s legions of die hard fans will revel in listening to Flea’s trademark bass tuggings and a fresh dose of preposterous rambles from Kiedis. And I don’t begrudge them their fun in the slightest. I’ve no beef with the Chilis continuing to release middle of the road rock records like I’m With You. They’re free to cruise along on the wave of their own popularity, without pushing the boundaries of their hard-earned image all they want… I just won’t be cruising along with them, that’s all.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – championing the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the very end; their last two lengthy LPs; some real lyrical head-scratchers from the king of lyrical head-scratchers, Anthony Kiedis; one of the world’s biggest bands who have lost their edge; a band with their socks where they should be
Fantastic Track – Brendan’s Death Song