Warner Bros., 2006
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/15/2006
One week in the summer of 2006 saw new releases by Pearl Jam, Tool and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Children of the 90s were in heaven. Except in the case of the Peppers, it was a double album coming off a 4-year absence (other than the two new songs on the hits collection).
The sheer audacity is astounding; 28 songs on two full discs is akin to two double LPs, or 8 sides of music. That's a lot of music for a hits collection, let alone a studio disc. You would expect some songs to just not work, and you would be right...but the fact that so many of them do is testament to the strength of the songwriting and the rejuvenated band, continuing the work started on the excellent By the Way.
Guitarist and backup singer John Frusciante, in particular, really shines through the proceedings. With an astounding variety of textures, tones, effects, solos, arpeggios and power chords, the man sounds positively bursting at the seams to get his ideas out...so much so that he overshadows Flea, the bassist who normally steals the show.
The sheer volume of songs stalls any sense of momentum; you could put the last eight songs in place of the middle eight, or swap half of disc 1 for disc 2, and you wouldn't notice. Other than the closing epic "Death of a Martian" and the opening "Dani California," the songs almost flow like a playlist set to random.
Moreover, those expecting the funk and the punk need apply elsewhere. This band has mostly grown up; these are midtempo songs about mature themes, in essence 28 variations on a similar sound, some of it recalling the past, most of it of the moment. The best example is "Hard to Concentrate"; over light percussion and a warm bass riff, singer Anthony Kiedis sings a flat-out love song ("all I want is to make you family and / Finally you have found something perfect").Many highlights abound; "Especially in Michigan" is a love letter to Kiedis' home state, "Hump de Bump" brings the funk as well as any other Peppers tune and "Charlie" starts slow but bursts to life in the chorus. "Dani California" sounds like Tom Petty meets "By the Way" and is a fine single, though "Tell Me Baby" is probably the best song here. The band even gets in a nod to its mid-90s alt-rock phase with "Readymade."
Although Kiedis is a little less embarrassing with his lyrics nowadays, he still can't avoid lines like "Come on come on baby let me show you what I'm talkin' 'bout / You try to be a lady but you're walking like a sauerkraut / looka looka likea likea likea like you wanna get some." To his credit, he raps very little and sings most of these songs.
Granted, some could say maturity doesn't suit the Chili Peppers; they aren't nearly as much fun as they used to be, but they sound better. It was an inevitable trade-off with age. Moreover, the range of variations on the sound seem to reach back to the band's past more than the previous two releases; hints of Freaky Styley pop up in "Charlie," for example. But the many album tracks not mentioned are simply too mundane to register, sounding like endless variations on theme. It's best to slowly work your way through it; over time, the rewards will reveal themselves, no matter what level Peppers fan you are.