Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You (2011)

Posted: August 23, 2011 in Music

Twenty five years is an awful long time to be part of a band, regardless of how tight-knit their members are or how good they sound together.

Just ask the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Formed way back in 1984, the band has built a legacy with nine studio albums, countless hit singles, and a basket full of Grammy awards throughout their tenure. After the release of their last album – 2006’s double-disc Stadium Arcadium – the trials and tribulations of rock success had apparently taken its toll on the California quartet. The band toured for almost two years straight in support of the release, and after the dust had settled, founding member Anthony Kiedis had this to say back in 2008…

“We’re disbanded for the moment. We actually took a very long time to make the Stadium Arcadium record, because we wrote a lot of songs and then got way too married to them and decided we need it to be a double album. Which was a great experience, but it took forever.”

“We were all emotionally and mentally zapped at the end of that run. Cooler heads prevailed and the discussion at the end of our last tour was, ‘Let’s not do anything Red Hot Chili Peppers-related for a minimum of one year, and just live and breathe and eat and learn new things’…

Further fuel was added to the rumors of the band’s demise as on-again/off-again guitarist John Frusciante departed the band (presumably for the last time) in 2009, and drummer Chad Smith joined supergroup Chickenfoot later that year (alongside Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Joe Satriani).

Last year, however, Kiedis and Flea announced that the band would be back in 2011, and that the recording process was well underway for the group’s milestone 10th studio album I’m With You, featuring new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.


So here we are, a week before the album’s release, and have had the chance to preview the record (which you can do as well through your iTunes by clicking here)

“Monarchy of Roses” shoots out of the gate with a nice psychedelic vibe, but just as I settled in to the track, it took an about face into a more danceable groove that reminded me of 70s roller rinks. It goes back and forth like this for the next four minutes, but I really didn’t mind. It was an eclectic mix, but the Chili Peppers have always made that kind of stuff work well – and they continue that trend here.

As one of the most widely-respected bass players in music, Flea has laid his chunky beats all over the place, but his signature style has always been most at home with RHCP. “Factory of Faith” opens with an autographed bass line, as well as a return to a “rap” style of vocal from Kiedis (who has departed from the style as he has matured over the last few albums.) The groove cuts deep, but mixed in low is a peppy guitar rhythm that lightens up the track.

“Brendan’s Death Song” is the softer side of RHCP that has spawned a handful of chart-topping hits. Its near-ballad approach and tuned-down instruments allow Kiedis to shine for a while before the rest of the band rips into a instrumental solo of sorts, which inevitably carry Keidis’ vocals to the finish line. A very smart, personal, and powerful track.

While the Peppers have always been a hodge-podge of styles and sounds, they have ultimately been most recognized for their funk influence, and that style infects “Ethiopia.” The drums, bass and guitar are strong here, but I didn’t care for the vocals – from both a presentation and lyrical standpoint. Maybe it’s something we weren’t meant to understand, because after multiple listens I just didn’t get it.

“Annie Wants A Baby” is another low-tempo number, but interestingly enough features Klinghoffer’s guitar skill more than anything else. It’s obvious he fits right in to Frusciante’s shoes. So well, in fact, that I can’t really tell what’s different – better or worse – than previous albums. And that’s probably a good thing.

Apparently Kiedis has spent the last five years listening to a lot of Sly & The Family Stone, as “Look Around” is another Nixon-era flashback to afros and bell-bottoms, hand-claps and all. It, again, works. Flea’s thump is chocolate-sweet, and Anthony lets his vocals swim in this sea of funk. Easily one of the album’s better offerings.

The first single off the album is “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” which is a perfect return to the airwaves. It’s not too crazy, yet not too soft. It’s more melodious than much of the album, and stands as a great reminder of how chart-worthy RHCP can be when they want to. Evenly balanced bass and guitar ride along smoothly over Smith’s simple-yet-effective drum pattern. A little safe? Yes – but smart.

“Did I Let You Know” has a bit of an island-vibe going on, and shows that the band has matured quite a bit, even since Stadium… Not a surprise, really. If anyone honestly thought the band would still jump around like animals with their genitalia wrapped in tube socks some twenty years later, they are really holding on to something that even the band has let go of. This is nothing more than the direction the band started moving towards once they sobered up and became family men, and it comes across very genuine.

They still know how to rock, though, which is evident with “Goodbye Hooray” which hits pretty hard with a swirl of heavy drums, infectious bass, and clean-to-fuzzy guitars. The track slows down to catch its breath midway (after all, Kiedes and Flea ARE almost 50), but finishes with a flurry of noise and energy. Another one of the album’s “stand-out” tracks.

“Happiness Loves Company” again feels like the 1970s, but the different side of the decade. It’s like the Partridge Family – if the flowered tour bus was a body piercing parlor that served hard alcohol. It’s fun and poppy, a little tongue-in-cheek, and a definite toe-tapper. As we mentioned before, we give RHCP carte blanche when it comes to bringing new styles to the party, and this shouldn’t have been so catchy, but it was.

If there is anything resembling a ballad here, it’s “Police Station.” The strength here is in the lyrics, and Kiedis is in rare vocal form. The backing guitars and piano build this track slowly but surely, and this will get radio play at some point. I’m not sure I ever remember female vocals on a Chili Peppers song, but they only add to the mix. It’s not the best track on the disc – but it’s proud owner of second place.

The play on words in the title of “Even You, Brutus?” had my hopes up for some old-school Chili Pepper shenanigans, but alas it was not to be. The lyrics were a little looser – as were Flea’s bass strings – but this slowed down funk piece didn’t pack much punch. In fact, I never thought I’d say Red Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay in the same sentence, but…

“Meet Me At The Corner” is another feather-pillow of a track with some nice intricate guitar fills along the way. Kiedis is as serious with his lyrics here as he has ever been in this tale of broken relationships and the aftermath. I don’t mind the mature nature he takes from time to time, and this album had just the right amount of weighty lyrical content – with this being the highlight.

Wrapping things up is “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and it’s exactly what you would think – a hip-swinging, straight-ahead boat ride into the sunset. There’s a hint of a reggae feel, which only adds to a groovy goodbye to an album that was far too long in the making.

What echoed long after the album was over was what the future holds for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Smith is on board for the second Chickenfoot release due out this fall, and the band is not getting any younger. The plans are to tour extensively into 2013 on this release, but I doubt the public would endure another five year lapse between now and another album, so maybe this boat ride isn’t coming back. If that’s the case, I think Kiedis and company put their best foot forward here, releasing a smart – albeit more mature – album that would be a fitting end to one of the most storied careers in music.

I sure as hell hope not, though. It felt like the Red Hot Chili Peppers have tapped into something here. Something that could potentially take them even further down the vanguard highway. I’m not expecting them to wear weird costumes or cover themselves in gold paint anymore, but what I do expect is great music – and they haven’t failed me yet.

8.5/10

Tracklist:
01. Monarchy of Roses
02. Factory of Faith
03. Brendan’s Death Song
04. Ethiopia
05. Annie Wants a Baby
06. Look Around
07. The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie
08. Did I Let You Know
09. Goodbye Hooray
10. Happiness Loves Company
11. Police Station
12. Even You, Brutus?
13. Meet Me at the Corner
14. Dance, Dance, Dance

Buy at Amazon

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Comments
  1. SimplyRead says:

    Hi – I agree with a lot in your review, especially that Look Around is one of the strongest tracks, and that those handclaps along with Happiness Loves Company give the album that 70s feel.

    Lots of people have noted how odd it is that pianos feature more heavily in the later tracks. Again, to me it’s the 70’s, this time I feel it as their take on a much more tanned, funky Kate Bush .

  2. WasatchMan says:

    There are some minor factual errors in your review.

    Your so called “female vocals” are actually the vocals of new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.

  3. AImee says:

    Poor Josh, he has a lovely voice, he sings in Ethiopia too 😀

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