Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m with You

Change is a cruel mother, especially among legions of keen music fans. Mark a strong left turn in your musical arc and, nine times out of 10, your goose is cooked. With the release of I’m with You, the legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers are stoking the fires.

The discrepancy isn’t intrinsically drastic, mind you, but there’s an awful lot going on here. This, the band’s first recording since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, is a layered, intricate, lyrically-dense album that is still instantly listenable and funky as all hell. But it’s a grower.

With the departure of guitarist John Frusciante in 2009, the Peppers said goodbye to their longest-standing line-up and hello to ambiguity. Like the Rolling Stones after Brian Jones, they faced a junction and a judgment. Was it time to hang up the socks for good? Or is the spirit too strong with these ones?

Enter new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, a friend of Frusciante’s and a touring session musician of repute. His playing is expressive and refined, relying less on agitating riffs and more on filling in atmospheric spaces.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers would have us consider the band of I’m with You to be a “new band.” In some ways, they are. But there is, without question, a lot of the standard Peppers’ stuff to work with. Flea’s bass playing is spirited and his contributions on piano add to the bigger picture, while vocalist Anthony Kiedis is as robust as ever. Chad Smith’s drums drive things as they should.

What stands at the core of I’m with You is a meditation on life and death. Themes of transience soak in, dwelling in the keystones of each of the 14 songs and bathing the hour-long album with a sense of insistence. Short of being a concept album, it’s not a stretch to say that this is, in fact, a “purpose album.”

Consider “Brendan’s Death Song.” A certain single, this is an acoustic-led elegy to Brendan Mullen. The founder of The Masque, Mullen was one of the first promoters to give the Chilis a shot when he offered Flea and Kiedis an opening spot for the Bad Brains. He was working on a biography of the band when he died suddenly in 2009.

Then there’s “Police Station,” a stirring number filled with emotional symbols. Kiedis swings high and reaches deep while the band pulls in tight around him in support. Piano punches up the shiver-inducing proportion and the song, bold in its examination of the history of the Los Angeles police force, is a history lesson built on heart and soul.

Pieces like the aforementioned pair give the Red Hot Chili Peppers an expressive wisdom that some may not be accustomed to, but I’d argue it’s always been there. What really sets these songs apart, and indeed the entirety of I’m with You, is how the music contributes to the spirits underneath.

There’s more than enough by way of strong-hearted jams and groovy songs, of course. The Chilis play with cat-like reggae on “Did I Let You Know” and the funk fuses with African music on the lovely “Ethiopia,” a song that features a killer Klinghoffer solo. The anthemic “Dance, Dance, Dance” carries an almost U2-feel with its stadium-pleasing atmosphere.

Big as a mountain yet warm as a heartbeat, I’m with You is a step in the right direction for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It marks a transformation for certain, but the expedition, one built with the joyful balance of artistic progress, is well worth the wait.

This was originally posted at Blogcritics.org

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52 thoughts on “Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m with You

  1. I started playing guitar because of John Frusciante and he’s my idol, but Josh Klinghoffer was definitely the breath of fresh air that the Chili’s needed.

  2. You make me really want to get the album NOW. My better half stumbled upon one of their new songs and was elated that they were still rocking. The way you tell it this album is epic and full of heart witch is the way I like my music. Thank you for your insightful analysis.

  3. Congrats on getting into freshly pressed!

    I think that this album is by no means their best work or a masterpiece but it is definitely a decent record. I’m posting my review tomorrow, check it out!

  4. Great review. I just heard the new album for the first time and really enjoyed it. Of course, the Peppers have had my heart since I met them Under the Bridge. Congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  5. I’ve been a huge fan of the RHCP for a long time but much like you said I’ve been thinking that a different direction could be an awesome thing for them, looking forward to listening to this one asap.

  6. Really great review. I still haven’t had a chance to check out the album. That will be my afternoon project. I can’t believe I haven’t listened to it yet! I’ll be back with more input on the matter! Im excited, I hope it’s not like the albums post By The Way everything since has been (like you said) “growable”, not an instant FUCK YEAH! but hey…ya never know. Let’s hope this album is more than just that!

    • I would argue that the Red Hots are more accomplished musicians now and are expressing a lyrical depth that they haven’t reached as of yet. Kiedis is 48 and it shows in his content, as he expresses more profound emotions and thoughts than ever.

      So while “really good” is subjective, I would argue that these Chilis are indeed REALLY good – if not finally GREAT as musicians and performers. How “mainstream” a band is or isn’t has never been my concern, but I understand where you’re coming from.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Great post…. I really enjoy your writing. I haven’t been a die-hard fan of the chilis for some time, but your article has given me a very strong drive to give it a full and a attentive listen..

  8. “By The Way” first left me disappointed & wanting more of their older stuff… but that album grew on me and I found myself truly digging their evolution. That opened my eyes to how significant it is for us artists to step outside our familiar zones and branch out. I can’t wait to listen to the new stuff and am even more anxious to hear when they will be touring the US. Their music touches my soul in ways I cannot explain.

  9. “…the music contributes to the spirits underneath.”
    Great way to put it. That’s how their music has struck me ever since Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and especially since Californication.
    Thanks for the review! I will have it in a backrow seat in my mind as I listen to my copy which should come in the mail today!!!

  10. Pingback: Red Hot Chili Peppers – I'm with You « Canadian Audiophile « Red Hot Chili Peppers

  11. Great post, I really enjoy your writing. I haven’t been a die-hard fan of the chilis for some time, but your article has given me a very strong drive to give it a full and attentive listen.

  12. For the first time I am hesitant to buy a RHCP album, provided that by the age of 15 I was the proud owner of 12 (including a couple of different issues of Mother’s Milk). I have to admit I only heard the first single on TV and radio and it did sound a bit weak. Or maybe I have pre-set negative expectations because I am a sucker for John. Come back Frusciante!
    Thank you for the detailed review – it is nicely written and makes me feel less scared to give them the next chance. RHCP are after all, my lifelong love 🙂

  13. Whereas I think the video is pure classic Chili Peppers magic, I was surprised how devoid of melody and hook The Adventures od Rain Dance Maggie is… but as you said.. I think this one’s a “grower”….

  14. Personally I would love to see the Chili’s return to a more bombastic funk rock style. As a long time Chili Peppers fan I was less than pleased with Stadium Arcadium and believe they could have reduced it to a single CD and it still wouldn’t have gotten into the top 5 RHCP albums. From what I’ve heard from the latest offering (it’s the first RHCP album that I’ve not rushed out and bought) it’s very much business as usual even with the departure of John Frusciante. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have lost their edge and are resorting to tried and tested methods that are frankly quite boring. I would love nothing more to fall back in love with the Chili’s but this offering is doing nothing to reignite the flames.

  15. A great review. I pre-ordered the album on iTunes and after reading a few of the reviews I was anxious. But after listening to the album and reading this review, I agree with this one more than any other.

    It is a step in different direction for RHCP, but I like the changes. I kind of miss Frusciante, but Klinghoffer brings a different feel to the album. The emotion in some of the songs stands out to me, as well as Flea’s always awesome bass riffs.

    Great post, congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  16. I haven’t owned a Peppers album since Blood Sugar Sex Magic. (I just checked and cannot believe that was released in 1991!!!!). Anyway, clearly this must be remedied. Stellar review!

  17. I was just thinking how I was liking the album cover… then I see on Wikipedia it’s a Damien Hirst artwork! RHCP are probably the only band on the planet who could afford such extravagance.

    And it’s interesting to see how RHCP are changing again. Personally I was disappointed with the whole “Frusciante Returns” era, and am quite curious to hear the new record for myself.

    Thanks for the review!

  18. ” ‘I’m with You’ is a step in the right direction for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” ~ I could not agree with you more!! When I first heard the new album, I fell in love with it! I’ve always been a fan of the band, but I like that they’re taking things in a different direction…it works for them.

    Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

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