Peppers I'm With You
The departure for the second time of the guitarist John Frusciante, and with him the sound that has been the Red Hot Chili Peppers' trademark for a decade, could have been the end for a band that has, after all, been around for nearly 30 years. No one would have blamed them if they'd called it a day. They're knocking on 50, after all, yet still have to play music written by angry, energetic 20-somethings.
But they didn't.
Instead, the bassist Flea went to study music at the University of Southern California, one of their session guitarists, Josh Klinghoffer, replaced Frusciante and Anthony Kiedis grew a moustache (surely inviting Daniel Day Lewis to play him should a rock biopic ever get made) and listened to the Touareg guitar band Tinariwen. Drummer Chad Smith just went on doing what he loves doing: hitting drums.
And it's Smith's drums and the necessary new emphasis on Flea's bass that really makes this album what it is, leading it directly on occasions to a kind of Afrobeat sound, with Kiedis's uniquely melismatic voice employed in yelping vowels in Ethiopia and Did I Let You Know. Both songs blend distinctively north African rhythms and bass lines (that's where the Tinariwen comes in, then) with Nigerian funk, drum and horn interludes.
Flea, for all his new-found scholarly knowledge of music theory, remains as aggressive and macho a bassist as ever, and where at times his funk seems a little more tamed, even pedestrian, at others he lets rip with the virtuosic power of a man who is effectively an extension of his instrument.
The bass solo in the stabbing Goodbye Hooray shows he is as good as he's ever been - and that's good enough to have been placed at number two in Rolling Stone's list of the best bass guitarists of all time.
Strangely, elsewhere the album finds a kind of 1960s jauntiness, with the six-eight bouncy piano of Happiness Loves Company joined by an almost Beach Boys-like "ba-ba-b-ba" countermelody. Similarly, the first single to be released, The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie, might begin with Flea's back-to-basics minor-key bass riff, a perfect piece of grunge-funk menace, but for the chorus it modulates into a sunny major key, with Klinghoffer's melodic guitar line and Smith's oom-pah drums placing it firmly in pop territory.
The hip-hop piano-pounding of Even You Brutus? goes the same way, and does so with the Peppers' old vigour.
The band is to be found in a positively contemplative mood on Police Station, though; a slow, mellow, bass-heavy ballad with a rousing chorus, accented by uncharacteristically pensive piano and echoey melancholic guitars. This comes out, too, on Brendan's Death Song, a tribute to the LA punk promoter Brendan Mullen, who was one of their first champions. It's a superb song, a celebration of punk, friendship and old times, and a reminder of what the band can do when they stop being the famous Chili Peppers and simply get down to playing music together.