Maybe because they have the bruised and besieged air of a group who have been dragged through the rock’n’roll hedge backwards, who have suffered their share of tragedy and are well travelled on the road of excess, you tend to forget just how huge the Red Hot Chili Peppers are.
Their previous album, 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, was a colossal success, selling more than seven million copies – adding to the pile of 60 million albums they’ve sold overall. They are the most unlikely of the not yet extinct stadium dinosaurs.
The tension between their maverick essence and mass appeal is evident on their 10th studio album, I’m With You, which is the first to feature guitarist Josh Klinghoffer as a permanent fixture in the band. The slightly disappointing opener Monarchy Of Roses blasts off with a free jazz-style blowout and churns up a fog of distortion. However, underneath all this flair and fury you sense a rather conventional song trying to get out and, unfortunately, succeeding.
But those fans who detected signs of sameyness on Stadium Arcadium will, overall, be happier with I’m With You. Klinghoffer makes a great impact, bringing warm winds and heavy colour to Ethiopia, some fine glassblower effects to Did I Let You Know, and some lysergic frazzle to Goodbye Hooray, even though it’s Flea who calls overall seniority, dictating on his ever-garrulous bass on Police Station. That song reflects the passage of time – the Chilis have been with us for over 30 years.
They’re entirely clean nowadays and lyrically there feels like a distance between today and the riotous carousing of their druggier past. This is reflected in the somewhat repentant air of the LCD Soundsystem-inspired Factory Of Faith (‘I was a piece of work, I was really quite a jerk’, confesses Kiedis), the remembrance stew of Beatles/Led Zep that is The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie, and Annie Wants A Baby, in which the sense of past lives and present anxieties is strong.
Intimations of mortality are at their most pronounced on Brendan’s Death Song, which could have done with being a little more acoustic and stark. But then, thoughts like ‘The nights are long but the years are short when you’re alive’ perhaps need a little sugaring.
Still, they go out kicking and screaming up a storm. Dance, Dance, Dance isn’t a cover of the Chic song but the primal, punk-funk rumble of a group who cast long shadows but who have managed to resist compromise and decrepitude, their strength renewed.