In a darkened cinema in Soho in London a roomful of journalists are watching a screen full of stars. Intermittently, song titles by the Red Hot Chili Peppers come into focus and then explode into streams of light, and as they do so we’re taken ever forward on our journey through the cosmos.
Welcome to the world of the album playback. Size is important and, as befits one of the biggest rock bands in the world, their album launch is a lavish affair. They turn the lights down so that we might admire the digitised heavens some more and then turn them back up when they realise that no one can see their notepads. And notepads are something you need to see as no less than 28 songs drift, thrum and rumble past over the next few hours.
For the making of Stadium Arcadium (in true Chili Peppers’ style it’s a title that’s more a feeling than a discernable thing) the band returned to the house in the Hollywood hills where they created their landmark BloodSugarSexMagik album. Producer Rick Rubin was there too, to help add to their newfound vitality and so profoundly happy were they that after they finished the initial recording they decided that not one song was less great than another and so they decided to release them all.
The Stadium Arcadium press release trumpets something about the band ‘unleashing’ their latest album, but as men long past their hormonal teenage best (though Kiedis seems to be trying to work that angle still), the Chili Peppers are beyond unleashing anything.
These days they’ve left behind the raucous funk of albums like The Uplift Mofo Party Plan and replaced it with something far more sublime. Those who tuned into the band with By The Way or Californication (and an amazing 15 million people did) will find much here to soothe them. Overlong the two CDs may be, but it’s done little to diminish the band’s groove: their songs are now fluid and charming as opposed to blunt and demanding. Sure, Flea still plays his bass as if the future of humanity depended upon it, but he bolsters their sound not dominates it.
The MD of their record label came out before the album was played to tell us he saw ‘five or six singles’ on the album and I can too. Wet Sand is the band at their resonating best, tough yet melodic with a clever conceit to its lyrics, they rage with Storm In A Teacup and are brazen with the confident sounding Make You Feel Better, which tells us that they really do believe that their music makes you, yes you, feel better. It would sound like hooey in someone else’s hands, but the Chili Peppers have that innocuous Californian charm; they believe it’s true so why can’t you, dude?
First single Dani California is totally indicative of Chilis 2006 – groovy, funky and beyond catchy – the spiritual followup to the title tracks of both their previous albums, while the superb Desecration Smile has fuelled press speculation that Kiedis may be studying under the aegis of the celebrity friendly Kabbalah faith. But whatever the song’s inspiration it’s one of the strongest on either disc.
The band say they were chasing down the ghosts of the Beach Boys with its lush harmonies, but its lovely vocal interplay owes more to those other famous sons of California; The Eagles. And though delightful and indulgent their voices may be, for the most part, Stadium Arcadium is guitarist John Frusciante’s record; he noodles diligently away all over both discs. Sometimes full of bluster on songs like the excellent Strip My Mind (like good Queen not A Kind Of Magic Queen) and the harrying Readymade, at other times he just bubbles away in the mix. A flurry of notes here, an arcing solo pitched just below the surface there.
Blips like Warlocks, which sounds like a rough and ready demo version of Give It Away, are rare and for the most part it’s a familiar, sure-handed cruise through the brightly lit streets of California that the Red Hot Chili Peppers call their own.
This review originally appeared in Classic Rock 93, in June 2006.