Thursday, September 1, 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers: I’m With You (but Frusciante isn't)

Anthony Kiedis, Flea, and John Frusciante existed as the holy trinity of their own brand of varyingly spaced out and grittily grounded rock/funk fusion music. Drummer Chad Smith hammered out the articulate chaos that infused it all with form, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers took their listeners on journeys that were invariably spiritual, sexual, and existential, sometimes all at once. Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic (1991), Californication (1999), By The Way (2002), and Stadium Arcadium (2006) are four of the most uplifting, introspective, and simply groovy records ever recorded. Any one of these albums are the types of compositions that hundreds of lesser talented bands would love to have recorded, even if just once. The Chili Peppers did it four (five if you count the double album Stadium Arcadium) times. The immense success of these albums set the guys up for life and seemingly embraced nearly every type of beat, guitar and base chord composition, lyrical twist, and trippy musical journey that could be conceived. Apparently though, even with the departure of their holy spirit, John Frusciante, there is more to be written and said.

Enter John Klinghoffer, former Chili Pepper guitar tech, live performance sideman, and Frusciante solo album collaborator and friend. Klinghoffer has more spirit than Dave Navarro, who was the guest lead guitarist on the last album that the Chili Peppers recorded without Frusciante, One Hot Minute (1995), so the results are spectacularly better this time around, but the meshing of Frusciante with his spiritual brothers produced a sound that is nearly impossible to live up to, let alone improve upon. Klinghoffer, now firmly entrenched in the lead guitar role, is undoubtedly a talented and unique guitar player in his own right. His style is close enough to Frusciante’s that he’ll also undoubtedly pull off brilliant covers of Frusicante’s guitar lines when the Chili Peppers tour and role out the classic hits. His style though is unique enough to provide a distinctly different sound on I’m With You (2011), even if it strays quite vehemently from the tried and true Chili Pepper-music spawning grimoire of incantations.

Album highlights like “Factory of Faith,” “Monarchy of Roses,” Look Around,” and “Brendan’s Death Song” spring to life under the influence of the aforementioned and unique Chili Pepper incantation. Flea’s base, Kiedis’ ageless voice, and Smith’s steady beat power the tracks. Klinghoffer weaves in some snaky and stealthy guitar lines that flush out the songs brilliantly. The problem is that his guitar lines simply end up flushing out the songs. His playing is flawless and inspired, but there isn’t a single song that strikes a recognizable or unique, for the Chili Peppers, riff or progression that materializes the sonic hook that draws one’s spirit out from its doldrums dwelling habitat and into the Chili Peppers’ transcendent musical dimension. Many of the songs on I’m With You eventually get you there, after some repeated listening, but there’s nothing akin to Frusciante’s line on “Under The Bridge” or “Scar Tissue.” There’s no clearly blended and multi-dimensional guitar meld like there is on the 53 second outro of “Easily.” There’s no progressively ascending guitar line the likes of which launch “The Zephyr Song.” While tracks like “Police Station” on I’m With You resembles some of the Frusciante magic, the Frusciante magic is gone and the guys are searching for the next inhabiting spirit to come along. Ironically though, this new animating spirit might just already be with them in the form of Klinghoffer. They just have to turn him loose. He has the talent, let’s see if he has the fire. He appears to have some new incantations of his own to add to the mix. Let the distortion flow along with the love... 

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