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Monday 22 Jul 2024

I'm with You
Jennifer Ramirez

The tenth Red Hot Chili Peppers album opens in chaos: the primordial rumblings of a band tuning up for a jam, perhaps for its first in a long time. You can almost see singer Anthony Kiedis standing in the corner, shirtlessly waiting to leap into the fray. The noise blooms into a Californicatin' disco inferno called "Monarchy of Roses," where Kiedis wonders, "Do you like it rough, I ask/And are you up to task?" He could be singing to himself. I'm With You finds a mighty band in a scary new role: underdog.

It's more than five quiet years since the last album from the Chili Peppers, the double-disc “Stadium Arcadium.” In 2009, they lost guitarist John Frusciante, a split that might've ended the band. But I'm With You pulls them back from the abyss, bravado intact. "Ticktock I want to rock you like the Eighties," Kiedis sings over a Chic-kissed throb on "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie." So they do.

The opening seconds of ''Monarchy of Roses,'' the lead song on the first Red Hot Chili Peppers album in five years, are nearly panic-inducing: Random drum fills and squalls of guitar feedback elbow each other without any direction. Frontman Anthony Kiedis moans about promises and dreams in a distorted death rattle. It's the sound of a rock and roll institution going to pieces, unable to find its footing after a long hiatus and the departure of yet another guitarist, John Frusciante.

Then, like a funky bolt of lightning from Valhalla, the snare kicks into gear, Flea's fleet-fingered bass line finds a sharp groove, and suddenly everybody's rocking like it's 1989 again. The Chili Peppers have been knocked down so often by infighting, egos, exits, and even death (founding guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988), but I'm With You doesn't bear any of those scars. It helps that new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer has been on the road with the band before, and that his fretwork closely resembles the bluesy counterpoints of departed axman Frusciante. But he isn't simply a mimic; he rarely slips into massive power chords on the big hooks, instead letting Flea and Kiedis do the major melodic lifting, which is most apparent on the ambling ''Annie Wants a Baby''. In fact, restraint seems to be Klinghoffer's greatest weapon; his sunshiny riffs on single, ''The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,'' earn him the right to blow off a bit of feedback-laden steam on the bridge.

That same restraint hasn't always extended to the rest of the Peppers, with their heady if precarious mix of shredding funk-punk and U2-esque sonic stateliness. As with “Stadium Arcadium,” in 2006, “I'm With You” could have used some judicious editing. The band's well-earned eclecticism sometimes brings more chaos than cohesion. ''Factory of Faith'' has a killer bass loop, but dresses it up in too many sonic baubles ; it's the musical equivalent of a countess trying to wear all her hats at once. ''Police Station'' is so languid it becomes gaseous, and ''Dance, Dance, Dance'' comes across as too slight a closer for such a rich album.

As “Californication,” another release that came after a hiatus and lineup reshuffle, “I'm With You” is greater than the sum of its many-cogged parts. The highs, such as the hyperactive ''Goodbye Hooray,' or the festive requiem, ''Brendan's Death Song'' greatly eclipse occasional stumbles, such as the lifeless ''Meet Me at the Corner.' Five years ago, the LA-denizens famously intoned, ''California, rest in peace.'' Although they're still the house band for watching the Golden State sink into the ocean, they're making sure that the beach bums left behind have an excellently heavy soundtrack for the after-party.

The peak moments, on “I'm With You,” balance swagger and sensitivity. Over the green-mohawked mirror-ball boogie of "Look Around," Kiedis rock-raps a vision of golden rapture: "Soft walk to horizon/One big crash that no one dies in. "It's the apocalypse as beach blowout, the meltdown as brodown. Strip down to your tube socks and party, dudes, you've earned it.

Jennifer Ramirez, known as Jenny, has reviewed and edited for 5+ years. Originally from Toronto, she grew up performing and competing in rhythmic gymnastics. Jenny enjoys reviewing movies, books and music albums. She describes herself as funny and righteous, with a 'go that extra mile' attitude. Her philosophy is quite simple: try to live life to the fullest Jenny writes that hr passion is books. She reads and reviews current and back-list literary fiction, crime fiction, thrillers, occasionally science fiction, and narrative nonfiction. She also loves music. She's a huge fan of The Maine and All Time Low! Joy is her favorite word and creativity is something she can't live without.

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