Premier Guitar

CD Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers - "I'm With You"

September 20, 2011
Red Hot Chili Peppers
I’m with You
Warner Bros.




With all due respect to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ infectious youthful abandon in the mid ’80s and the plaintive beauty of their Jaguar-driven 1991 megahit “Under the Bridge,” I’ll come right out and say it: Californication (1999) and By the Way (2002) were their high-water marks. Given the less sophisticated and dimensional music they recorded prior to recruiting guitarist John Frusciante in 1988, as well as the generally lackluster material they produced without him from 1993 to 1997, it’s safe to say he was the guitar sound of RHCP and that he was a huge part of why those two albums ruled. Frusciante is one of a kind. Though he struggled mightily with depression and addiction that landed him in rehab in 1998, his playing was funky and inventive, and yet still classic and down-to-earth sounding. Which is why he became a hero to legions of young guitarists over the last 15 years.

But Frusciante’s secret wasn’t just his guitar mastery—he thought epically. A huge fan of Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and experimental music, he imparted Californication and By the Way with fantastic songs (“Scar Tissue” and “Otherside” on the former, “Dosed” and “The Zephyr Song” on the latter), gorgeous melodies and harmonies, and a compositional sensibility that was simultaneously grand and grimy. So when Frusciante left again 2007, everyone wondered if RHCP was kaput. But we should’ve seen the writing on the wall: 2006’s Stadium Arcadium had cool music, but the songwriting magic was clearly gone—and Kiedis’ uninspired performances were practically self-parody.

The great news for RHCP fans is that new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer—a longtime Frusciante friend and collaborator who toured with the band for Stadium—is an excellent fit. His warm, vintage tones and phrasing maintain a feeling of compositional continuity, even as he conjures a stunning array of sounds and feels that are uniquely his—from the jazzy glissando licks on “Did I Let You Know” to the country-ish twang on “Police Station,” the nylon-string-powered “Brendan’s Death Song,” and the familiar-feeling but fresh and funky anarchy of “Monarchy of Roses”—and it has clearly reinvigorated the band in every way.

Must-hear tracks:
“Did I Let You Know,” “Goodbye Hooray,” and “Police Station”