When we think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at their best — making rock that was both breezily Californian and exceedingly funky — guitarist John Frusciante has always been the heartbeat of that sound. Of course, Frusciante’s experience with the band has been tempestuous. He’s quit twice, most recently parting ways with the group after the tour for their massive double album Stadium Arcadium in 2009. But in 2019, fans of the Chili Peppers were pleasantly shocked by news of Frusciante’s return.
Along with Frusciante, they’ve also reunited with Rick Rubin, who produced every RHCP album from 1992’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik to 2011’s I’m With You, their first with Frusciante’s replacement, Josh Klinghoffer. The result is vintage RHCP: a jammy, melodic effort that blends the wavy reflections of their 1999 triumph, Californication, with the expansive rock of Stadium Aracadium.
On lead single “Black Summer,” Frusciante vamps and singer Anthony Kiedis serves up a wacky little Irish pirate accent. The band tends to get a lot of flak for Kiedis’ lyrics, a sometimes confounding stream of consciousness that would leave James Joyce scratching his head. But for fans, this is often what makes them so delightful, and if you dig beneath the sometimes-muddled surface, there is often a deeper message. Some of the songs here, including “Black Summer,” address underlying climate and Earth anxiety. On “The Great Apes,” a kind of booming arena-rock singalong, Kiedis begs, “I just want the great apes to be free.”
Much of the album feels like a tour of the band’s greatest tropes. Take the funky “Aquatic Mouth Dance,” which feels like an ode to their funk-rap past, as Flea slaps the bass beneath Kiedis spitting a mix of random references and sometimes earnest yearning. Moving the song forward is a flush of horns, a surprising and gorgeous addition to many of the tracks on the album.
Cuts like the highlight “White Braids & Pillow Chair,” “It’s Only Natural,” “She’s a Lover,” and “Veronica” are often silly love songs (“I could spend my nights with you/This pussywillow,” Kiedis offers), but they’re genuinely tender, evoking the oceanic feelings of the more restrained moments of Seventies FM rock on Californication and 2002’s By the Way.
From Rolling Stone US