A more concise affair than its predecessor, but the Chilis’ latest is far from vital.
James Skinner 2011
Over a career spanning nearly 30 years, Red Hot Chili Peppers have weathered many storms. Drug addiction threatened to swallow the band whole at various points: founding member Hilel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988 while long-serving guitarist John Frusciante and bandleader Anthony Kiedis have both endured long struggles with substance abuse. It was Frusciante’s triumphant return to the group that led to 1999’s Californication, a hugely successful career-best that, for the most part, eschewed the spittle and venom of their earlier years in favour of a more reflective sound.
I’m With You is the band’s first album to be made with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Frusciante again out of the picture, and at 14 songs is a blessedly more concise affair than 2006’s sprawling Stadium Arcadium. Where that record came across as an ambitious (if flawed) synthesis of the group’s myriad styles to date, I’m With You aims at something slightly different but remains somewhat watered-down – a portrait of a band hitting all the right notes yet failing to really ignite.
Like most Chilis LPs though, there are moments to savour. On the first day of rehearsals for this set, Kiedis was informed of the death of long-time friend to the band and early champion Brendan Mullen, an influential figure on the LA punk scene. Brendan’s Death Song was written out of a jam that followed his breaking the news to the rest of the group: a strong, assured melody anchored by remarkable work from drummer Chad Smith. It reaches a clattering cacophony before receding gracefully; a celebration of life and contemplation of mortality as fine as they have ever produced.
The more refined songs on I’m With You undoubtedly prove the most effective. Meet Me at the Corner and Police Station boast warm female backing vocals and neat, unobtrusive turns from Klinghoffer, while the closing Dance Dance Dance hews closest to the ‘new beginning’ Kiedis has alluded to in promoting the record – a spacey, laidback groove built around a persistent Flea bassline.
Single The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie exemplifies the Chilis’ main problem here: a promising set of verses marred by a plodding, nothing chorus. Perhaps to be expected as the band settles into its new, Frusciante-less configuration but disappointing nonetheless, I’m With You is a solid, decent enough 10th album, but it’s far from vital.