2006’s ‘Stadium Arcadium’ was the sound of the Red Hot Chili Peppers letting guitar virtuoso John Frusciante take over, putting his guitar front and center. When Frusciante left the band for the second time, it was anyone’s guess how they would react musically. Enter Josh Klinghoffer, a collaborator/friend of Frusciante’s and backup guitar player for the Peppers during the end of their ‘Stadium Arcadium’ tour cycle. In a lot of ways, appointing him made a lot sense.
Where the two musicians are different is that Klinghoffer is a very subtle player, eschewing the loud volume and extended solos of his predecessor. That is the first thing you will notice about ‘I’m With You.’ The guitars are A LOT more subdued than ever before. Many of the songs start out with Flea playing a bass riff as only he can. In fact, it would be fair to say that a lot of the album is very bass driven.
First single, ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ was an odd choice to premiere the album to the world, but it does represent what a lot of the album is about, bass-dominated verses, incredibly minimalist guitar strumming and rousing choruses. ‘Did I Let You Know’ is out of left-field for the Chili Peppers, but it actually may be the best song on the album. Klinghoffer’s guitar is assertive throughout as well as his vocals. While they aren’t as prominent as Frusciante’s came to be, they are a formidable supporting tool for Kiedis. The track also includes some trumpet and is just downright beautiful from start to finish. Every single note in it works.
‘Happiness Loves Company’ is another odd offering, no doubt a product of Flea’s recent studying of the piano. It bounces along, and has a great chorus, but is a little hard to take seriously. ‘Police Station’ is a gently strummed song that is actually quite effective at incorporating a little piano into it. ‘Even You Brutus’ was the last song written for the album, and was a result of the band wanting to incorporate a piano piece that Flea had hastily written. It’s a grower because it doesn’t work on first listen, but becomes a bit more digestible after a few tries.
If a lot of the songs don’t connect with you the first time through, give it another chance and make sure you’re listening on a sound system that is conducive to picking up every little sonic nuance. In the ideal conditions, impressive guitar tricks and effects can be heard and Klinghoffer’s voice really shines.
Their new addition helps to highlight his bandmates’ considerable strengths. Good luck finding a tighter rhythm section on your average rock radio station. Starting with ‘Californication,’ Anothony Kiedis has steadily developed his voice to the point where he can legitimately sing and write incredible vocal melodies. Gone are the days where he had to rely on frantic yelping and rapping, though he is still happy to give a nod to the past every now and again
Despite the long odds, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came together and produced an album that is much better than it has any right being. They have grown immeasurably over the years and this suggests that songwriting may have been a more collaborative process than one might normally have thought. Sure, they lost a powerful and irreplaceable piece, but this machine still runs just fine even though it’s a little different now.
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J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!