For those who don’t know, I’m a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love their older stuff, I love their newer stuff, I even found some enjoyment out of the ill-advised album they did with Dave Navarro, “One Hot Minute” (key word SOME). That being said, when John Frusciante, their long-time guitarist, left the band for a second time last year to pursue, I was devastated. I wasn’t sure if they were going to carry on, but they found a replacement in their back-up touring guitarist and resident protege of Frusciante, Josh Klinghoffer. With their new album, “I’m With You”, the band sounds more focused than they have since 1999’s “Californication.”
It seems with the new member around, the rest of the band were inspired to get their grind. In particular, Flea seems to step it up tremendously, especially with his bass lines now being the focal point of so many tracks, presumably to compensate for Frusciante’s absence. But to me, the most improved member of the band is lead singer Anthony Kiedis, who sounds more confident than he has these last few albums. His singing has improved and so has his songwriting, opting for focused narratives instead of nonsensical ramblings. He may throw out a familiar lame lyric every now and then (“I like you cheeky / so Mozambiquey” immediately comes to mind), but as Charlie McDonald put it in his review, this might just be the least embarrassing Kiedis has ever sounded.
As for the newbie, Josh Klinghoffer is a less forceful and more subdued guitarist than John Frusciante, relying more on textural details than virtuosic solos and riffs. It works both for and against him, cause while some of the songs sound great the way they are, there are some moments where you can’t help but think “it would have been a bit better if Klinghoffer just launched into a KILLER solo right there!” But that’s more so about the void that Frusciante left, and while Klinghoffer doesn’t necessarily fill his shoes, he doesn’t try to. Make what you will of that.
There’s a lot of great songs on here that really jump out at you. The disco-flavored opener “Monarchy of Roses” is a psychedelic danceable tune that could have worked as the lead single (I think it at least would have been better than the middling “Adventures of Raindance Maggie”). The punkish “Goodbye Hooray” is another immediate highlight. To me though, the best songs on this record are the most experimental ones; the acoustic “Brendan’s Death Song”, where the band pays tribute L.A punk rock legend Frank Muller, is easily one of the best songs the Chili Peppers have ever done.
Overall, “I’m With You” is a solid record, certainly more streamlined than their last effort, 2006’s bloated double disc effort “Stadium Arcadium”. It might not be another “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” or another “Californication”, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. It’s a strong record that earns merits on its own, and I can’t wait to hear where the Chili Peppers go from here.
BEST SONGS: “Brendan’s Death Song”, “Police Station”, “Meet Me at the Corner”