Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You

by Aliki Varsamides Rating:6.5 Release Date:2011-08-29

"This is a new band. Same name, but it's a new band," said drummer Chad Smith of the band's 10th studio album I'm with You, released on August 29 in the US, and produced by longtime fifth Chili Pepper, legendary producer Rick Rubin, and the first since 2006 with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, replacing John Frusciante. Be prepared. This is not the Red Hot Chili Peppers of the last decade, there are no 'By the Way' or California inspired rock out moments. This album is a mixture of everything we've heard in the past jammed together, and squeezed with duct tape. This album is psychedelic disco, country ballad, nursery rhyme rap and funk rock, all created anew, with a Chili's twist.

There's a whole new maturity, with Kiedis and the band in reflective mode. This album more than any other seems to focus on that of having a purpose, mortality and life's bigger picture, the major theme being life and death (instead of the usual favoured themes of drugs, sex and California, although these do resurface) while still keeping the easy laidback groove on all 14 tracks. There's no doubt that the absence of John Frusciante is felt on this album - he is as much a core member as Kiedis or Flea. When we hear Kiedis' unmistakable vocals, we know its a RHCP track. The same goes for Frusciante, having been such a powerful, emotional creative force behind the music of the Chili Peppers. It was Frusciante who wrote the chords for Kiedis' poem, and one of the all-time greatest songs, 1992's 'Under the Bridge'.

Frusciante, preferring to remain underground, has left the band twice, can never be replaced as a writer and performer, such is his presence on stage. New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (longtime friend of Frusciante and the band) has a more subtle, textured approach to his guitar playing, clearly having been influenced by The Edge, in the same way Frusciante is clearly influenced by Hendrix.

Somehow it just doesn't work. As gifted as Klinghoffer is, there is a lack of energy and emotion which has left a Frusciante shaped hole on this album, the melodicism of his playing clearly absent. After their headline set at Reading 2007, I doubted they would ever make it back from whatever line they had crossed. After a sun-spilled day, the hottest atmosphere you can imagine, the crowd excitedly waiting for them. They came on, foul tempered because of sound problems, with a set that didn't suit the venue. I was gutted, people were walking away, booing them off stage - a bad ending to what was an amazing Saturday. Thank god for Nine Inch Nails' mind-blowing set the following night, otherwise a riot of epic proportions probably would have engulfed the entire site.

So I digress! Despite all of this I'm With You puts a smile on my face and makes me cry all in one listen. Opener 'Monarchy of Roses' is the rawest of the album, but still slightly overproduced, Flea's bass is full throttle, funky disco the Red Hot Chili way. 'Ethiopia', inspired by Flea's travels around the country with Damon Albarn's band Africa Express, is meant to be influenced by African music - not so sure about that, but it is a love song to one's son. The child-like chanting of "E-I-OH-E-I-A" demands the begininngs of a smile, especially with the melting rapturous chorus: "Tell my boy I love him so/ Tell him so he know/ Lost in Ethiopia". Acoustic ballad 'Brendan's Death Song' is a melancholic tribute to deceased longtime friend and club owner Brendan Mullen. This is by far the best track of the album: "Like I said, you know I'm almost dead/ You know I'm almost gone," sings Kiedis acceptingly. The underworld of 'Hades' is sung in such a soothing way it almost makes you wanna go down for a trip.

The recurring female prop for Kiedis retrurns, following on from Dani California. On lead single 'The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie', he uses his 'charming' ways once again to cast his spell: "Tick tock, I want to rock you like the 80s/ Cock blocking isn't allowed", and on 'Factory of Faith' he offers the marriage proposal to end all others: "Be my wife/ I think you're right that we should mate". I think my heart is beating too fast, but not in a good way. Kiedis quickly redeems himself, however, on 'Meet Me at the Corner'. Walking to meet his old love, he pleadingly sings: "I turned my head and I thought I heard a sound from the Gods/ A sound from the Gods where you were meant to be mine/ Any sign I'm taking it all for a ride 'til the day that I'm gone".

A lot of the album seems to sound like filler with a few standout tracks that RHCP fans will undoubtedly love, while Josh's new backing vocals add a new dimension, the harmonsing still just seems to emphasise the lack of vocals from Frusciante. 'Police Station' focuses on Kiedis' beloved theme, California, more specifically this time LA - but things are more serious: this slow burner piano-led track zooms in on hip hop culture, the race riots and abuse of power at the hands of the LAPD. The album closer 'Dance Dance Dance' lifts the mood, with a fuck-it-all attitude, the empty, desert like atmosphere building with the lyrics: "Dance, dance, dance, dance/ All night long, yes, all night long", leaving you no choice but to strip off, jump around and get freaky styley - after all it's the Chilli Peppers, it would just be wrong not to.

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