Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You

January 01, 1970

(Warner Bros.)

 

www.warnerbros.com

 

After a run of five excellent albums that helped define two
generations and having spent more time in the band than any other guitarist in
their ranks throughout its three-decade existence, thinking of a Red Hot Chili
Peppers without the six-string swagger of John Frusciante in the mix is indeed
a bitter pill to swallow.

 

And, upon a cursory listen of the first album of the second
post-John era, the absence of the wunderkind’s unique George Harrison/D.
Boon/Eddie Hazel axis of interplay might throw one for a bit of a loop. Looking
for those soaring solos and hypermelodic backing vocals might initially seem
like an amputee getting twinges from a phantom limb. But the difference between
I’m With You, produced with love once
again by the band’s longtime studio magician Rick Rubin, and their previous
Frusciante-less LP, 1995’s One Hot Minute,
is their choice in a replacement. Rather than seek the employment of a
guitarist of equal ego and idolatry like they did in 1994 when they brought
Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro into the fold or recruit total unknowns as they
had with Arik Marshall and Jesse Tobias, the Peppers chose to hire from within
this time out. And just like the man he would eventually come to replace did
with the late Hillel Slovak almost 25 years ago, 31-year-old Josh Klinghoffer
grew up a diehard RHCP fan when he was asked to join the group on tour as a
second guitarist for their 2006-07 world tour in support of their double-length
opus Stadium Arcadium. So when you
add that to the fact that he already had a history with them as a friend and
associate on the L.A. scene and served as a frequent collaborator with
Frusciante himself on several of his solo albums (including the amazing Shadows Collide With People from 2004
and the two disgustingly underrated LPs with Ataxia, the pair’s power trio with
Fugazi bassist Joe Lally), Klinghoffer seemed like the most logical choice to
assume lead guitar duties.

 

Unlike Navarro, who tried to carjack the spotlight at every
turn during his brief tenure with the group, I’m With You sees the new kid deliver a more subtle, functional
role on his axe than anyone else who has been in that position to date. And,
perhaps for the first time ever on a Chili Peppers record, it is Flea who takes
the reigns as the lead instrument here, going Jaco all over this mofo so to
speak, which ultimately proves to be this album’s saving grace. The
collaborative footprints of the Artist Formerly Known As Michael Balzary can be
heard all over these 13 tracks, particularly the Gorillaz-aping “Factory
of Faith” and the Afrobeat-heavy “Did I Let You Know” – both of
which are highly indicative of Flea’s upcoming collaborative LP with Blur’s
Damon Albarn and legendary Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen – as well as the
blistering opening cut “Monarchy of Roses,” where his playing is reminiscent
of his recent work in Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s side project Atoms for
Peace.  Drummer Chad Smith, in the
meantime, has never sounded more powerful on the drums as he does on this LP. His
tenure in the hard rock supergroup Chickenfoot alongside the likes of Sammy
Hagar, Michael Anthony and the immortal Joe Satriani can definitely be heard in
the propulsive rhythms of such key tracks as “Ethiopia,” “Goodbye
Hooray” and the Black and Blue-era
Stones evoking closing number “Dance Dance Dance”.

 

Meanwhile, frontman Anthony Kiedis has never come across
this alive lyrically since Blood Sugar
Sex Magik
. While his performances on Californication,
By The Way and Stadium were all fine in their own rights, there is a certain
swagger he owns up to on I’m With You that definitely splits the difference between the modern Chilis and their Mother’s Milk days. Songs like
“Police Station” and the Supertramp-esque “Happiness Loves
Company” find him in fine singing voice, as does the ultra-catchy first
single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” a tune which might not make
much sense to the recently waterlogged East Coast, but serves as a beautiful, hopeful
pop prayer for the West, currently in the throes of one of the worst droughts
this country has ever experienced. Elsewhere, Kiedis gets more personal than he
ever has on record with poignant on cuts like “Meet Me On The Corner”
and the heartstopping “Brendan’s Death Song,” written in homage to Brendan
Mullen, the man who gave the Chilis their first big break by booking their
debut gig at Hollywood’s famed Club Lingerie and remained a good pal of the
group until his dying day. And if you miss Anthony getting funky on the mic
like an old batch of collard greens with his famously non-linear lyricism, skip
directly to the likes of “Look Around” and “Even You Brutus,”
where he appears to be emulating the delivery of Slug from Atmosphere on a jam
that could be the older, wiser relative of “Sir Psycho Sexy”.

 

The absence of John Frusciante from I’m With You is certainly palpable, especially if you listen to the
Red Hot Chili Peppers specifically to hear him rip open the sonic skies with
the might of his Sunburst Fender Stratocaster. But the way by which these guys
have restructured their sound in the wake of his walkout, not only in bringing
Flea and his head full of music theory education into the foreground but also
inviting an elite slew of friends to expand the boundaries of several tracks
here (namely Latin percussion luminary Lenny Castro, Beastie Boys keyboardist
Money Mark and The Bird and The Bee’s Greg Kurstin among others), is genuinely a
pleasant surprise. And undoubtedly one that grows more and more enjoyable upon
repeated listens.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Factory of Faith,” “Brendan’s Death Song,” “Look Around,”
“The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” “Did I Let You Know,”
“Even You Brutus” RON HART

 

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