Review: The Red Hot Chili Peppers are back and it sure feels good

Unlimited Love is Red Hot Chili Peppers' first album in six years, with much-loved guitarist John Frusciante back for a third stint

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Unlimited Love cover art
(Image: © Warner Music)

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“We yearn to shine a light in the world, to uplift, connect and bring people together,” said the Red Hot Chili Peppers in a collective statement heralding their latest album. “Each of the songs on our new album is a facet of us, reflecting our view of the universe. This is our life’s mission.” 

The Chili Peppers collective is now minus guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who parted company amicably with the group, with John Frusciante replacing his own replacement to play with the band for the first time since 2006. 

Rick Rubin, meanwhile, with whom Klinghoffer did not always get along creatively, is reinstalled as producer. And, while the 17 songs of Unlimited Love do not always quite live up to the incandescence of their mission statement, there is nonetheless an undercurrent of playfulness and joy at the emergence from pandemic and the reuniting old buddies back jamming in the same room.

That said, the album begins on a sombre note with Black Summer, Frusciante’s playing wistfully reminiscent of very late Pali Gap Jimi Hendrix, a reflection, perhaps, on the bushfires that swept through Australia in 2020, which would have felt close to home to Australia-born bassist Flea.

Thereafter, however, the vibe and tempo of the album is multi-faceted, frolicsome, free of the angst of estrangement that overshadowed 2016’s The Getaway, after the collapse of singer Anthony Kiedis’s two-year relationship. Women feature a lot on Unlimited Love. Not in any raunchy, leering, unreconstructed manner, but as ideals, types, such as the multiple female perspectives on Veronica, whose enigmatic, electric charm is captured in lines like ‘the smell of your hello’ on Tangelo.

Frusciante’s playing is a welcome return: the liquid-glass effect on Not The One; the emancipatory, simian fretboard howl that concludes The Great Apes; the effortless funk swish of It’s Only Natural. But there’s an even balance, as always, with Flea on bass practically playing as lead at times, as is the group’s funky wont. 

Another recurring feature is allusions to The Beatles, perhaps as a wink to Beatle maniac and Paul McCartney inquisitor Rubin: the lilting ‘rii…de’ on White Braids & Pillow Chair, or quick-fire references to ‘Madonna’ and ‘I feel fine’ on Let ’Em Cry (whose brass section also reminds strongly of Sly & The Family Stone’s If You Want Me To Stay), maybe even the long A Day In The Life fade-out on the concluding Tangelo. Whatever. The Chilis are back together, having fun. And it feels good.

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.