I love Red Hot Chili Peppers. However I do not personally know or am related to anybody in this band, so this will be a reasonably unbiased review. Other than, that I dig them. But if you've been here before you'll know what a breathless fan I am.
Here are the facts: It's been four years since the last album.
They spent almost two years on this one.
Rick Rubin was involved. (We heroize Rick Rubin here.)
Nobody is on drugs anymore! Yay!
This is not just an album. This is TWO ALBUMS. Two discs. Fourteen songs each. Twenty eight songs in total.
With a quantity like that, the potential for suckitude rises substantially. However, these guys have done the improbable: they have just put out a double album with twenty eight songs and NONE OF THEM SUCK.
I got my hands on this piece of work on Thursday and I'm writing this review on Monday evening; it's been spinning steadily. I've put it through its paces. Here are the results:
The Discman Test: Passed. I liked Dani California real good on my one-speakered clock radio but through the phones I heard very interesting things.
The Dining Room Test: Passed. It sounds good on my daughter's little player sitting on the extra chair.
The Road Test: Passed. There's a good mixture of vibey grooves and rockin gas pedal pushers.
The Jethro-Jetta Test: Failed. That's right. Sadly, failed. Something about the pre-amps in the VW car stereo and how Damn Frickin Loud The Mastering is, and that all the high notes are distorting and causing his golden ears agony.
I'm not being sarcastic here, because Jethro really does have golden ears, which provide us with our living, and we protect his ears. The thing is, deep down, Jethro is a headbanger, and he likes it loud. He's totally bummed out that this Rick Rubin production, with his carefully chosen engineers, got sent off to the mastering studio and got pushed all the way up as loud as it could go and now this disc is punishing him.
It's not even the mastering engineer's fault. Everybody's doing it. This is how discs are mastered these days. This was recorded on analog and it still distorts in the top end.
The Gramma Test: Passed. She didn't mind it in her car or her living room.
The Strict Mommy Test: Passed. Can you believe it??? I have listened to it repeatedly, I've scoured the lyric sheets, and there is no swearing. Did you hear me? This Red Hot Chili Peppers record has no swearing. My daughter is thrilled. Okay, there are a few uh, references that I hope will sail over their innocent heads. But there's no swearing!
The Sex Appeal Test: Passed. Duh.
Now let me tell you about the packaging. It's excellent. It's all done in contrasts of hot and cool colours. The two discs are called Jupiter and Mars, which is appropriate since the whole project is rather spacey looking. All the lyrics are included, so that you can examine all the crazy rhymes. There are individual photos of each guy and a group shot amidst the fiery remains of an apparently hot rehearsal.
The music! This is perfect, classic Chili Peppers. There is a maturity here, but these boys have not forgotten that they are a funk band. The Chad Smith & Flea rhythm section is smokin. Listen to Flea; you must. Guitarist John Frusciante is still the master of the spidery riffs but can pull out a heavy squawk of power chords. While Flea plays the melodies, and Chad sets down the killer beats, John vibes out the riffs from outer space, over which Anthony shouts and sings the perfectly sensical nonsense.
The biggest pleasant surprise would be the vocal confidence in frontman Anthony Kiedis. He didn't start off as a singer. He was the shirtless rapping crazy frontman who kind of learned to sing out of necessity. He's still not ranking among the most technically skilled singers, but he is singing! He's developed a nice little vibrato and is using it sparingly. He sounds strong, and keeps his unique sound. (I didn't ask Jethro if he'd been Autotuned to death. I can't tell and I don't wanna have the bubble burst.)
If I may quote myself here: He's putting some effort into it instead of just lying on his back with his hands behind his head, grinning. (That's a good one eh? Mental image alert!!!)
There are so many standout songs. Dani California, the catchy first single, stays true to Anthony's favourite subject of the troubled sexy young woman. This song has the rapid rhyme verses, singalong chorus, and funky bridge. They ended it with a guitar solo- with a flange effect on it!- and a bass climb. Genius. It's followed up by the vibey Snow ((Hey oh)) which lopes along smoothly. The title track is trippy and mellow, but is then followed by the perfectly funky Hump de Bump which MUST be played at your next party.
Slow Cheetah is hypnotically sad. Especially In Michigan is big and rolling. I don't know why there are lions and tigers in Michigan but what a cool tune. The Mars disc has, in my opinion, the best marriage proposal song I've ever heard, Hard to Concentrate. (If you can't give it a listen, go read the lyrics on the website.) It also has the grinding Readymade and Storm In A Teacup. Desecration Smile will have you singing along and waving your lighter or cellphone, depending on your age and bad habit preference. The whole thing ends with the grand Death of a Martian.
I think this is the grooviest I've ever heard them. And, it's the most varied.
Many of the songs aren't arranged in a traditional verse-chorus-verse form but they work. These guys know how to push and pull a beat.
A large cast of guest musicians rounds out the huge production, including guitarist Omar Rodriguez, a choir, percussionists, and a cellist. Don't be alarmed. They are not in a Power Ballad With Strings phase. I doubt they ever will; they're too naturally cool.
I also have to note that I'm really falling in love with John Frusciante. He's contributing backup vox, something he took on with 2002's By The Way. He looks content, healthy, dare I say, beatific! His brain fascinates me. Interviews with him are incomprehensible (I assume, for most people). He tells SPIN that he resents being told what to do by his brain. I know, John!! I know!! It's really a good thing he didn't have to have an arm amputated a few years back when he had that little dirty needle abcess problem. Geez. Rock stars.
Speaking of looking good...Check out this magazine cover photo. I have to call attention to Flea. How fit is this guy? Is that what surfing and bass playing can do for the physique? Anthony looks good. Of course. And Chad looks...happy! He has discovered smiling!
This one has always been an interesting band. They have never sounded like anyone else. They've kept doing what they're good at, and not content to cruise effortlessly, have pushed themselves.
Should you spend your hard-earneds on this record? Heck yes. From a purely dollar per song basis, you win. And it rocks.
And finally, I just want to say...
FLEA AND JOHN, IF BY SOME FREAKY CHANCE OF COSMIC COINCIDENCE YOU ARE READING THIS...
I did not illegally download your record. I drove to the store and bought it. I'm glad I did. I would never break your sweet precious hearts by stealing your music. Thanks for another great album.