Red Hot Chili Peppers have not only been great survivors; they’ve also been great tune-meisters. In their new (tenth) album, the gentlemen from LA do what they do best — set up a funky, rock and rollsy buffet from which we can dip and feed. The first track in I’m With You, ‘Monarchy of roses’, is a charged number that chugs along well with the mandatory bass funk that trips us in a happy foot-happy zone. Anthony Kiedis may be sporting a moustache, but his vocals have a spring to it that could be exploited by mattress brands.
We find ourselves in a thick spider-web trap in ‘Factory of Faith’. Flea on the bass is really playing lead on that bass of his and he is what old-fashioned chaps grown up to thick strands in gems like ‘Soul to squeeze’ would call ‘amazing’. You can smell the cartridge grease on the bass strings as Kiedis bops with “Factually, I, I’m just a piece of it/ Factually, I, the very least of it.” Don’t miss the faraway echo-guitar sound that comes in the package.
The softie package comes to us next with ‘Brendan’s death song’. No, the band has thankfully turned down an offer to have their songs to be featured in the moronic musical TV show Glee. There was some sort of trepidation I had when coming to the track ‘Ethiopia’. Usually, a ‘thoughtful’ song from a superband suggests things that have little to do with musical capability and more to do with a shameless display of how much the band or artist ‘feels’. Thankfully, the vowel-charged song works without a Bono-type message.
There’s a lot of heavy lushness in I’m With You. And ‘Annie wants a baby’ provides us that heavy soupy sound. But this is a frazzled song in which Kiedis strings words together without taking us with him. Which is why ‘Look around’ takes us away with its rollercoaster ride of roads hitched to a bassline: “Stiff club/ it’s my nature/ custome love/ is the nomenclature/ turn down/ mass confusion/ hit the road/ ’cause we just keep cruisin’.../hustle here/ hustle there/ hustle me bitch/ and you best beware.” It’s not a killer song, but it prepares us for what is to come. The bumpity-bomp of ‘The adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ — the track whose video has RHCP doing a rooftop Beatles’ ‘Get back’ moment. Even boys will feel like shaking their legs when Kiedis sings, “Lipstick junkie/ debunk the all in one, she/ come back wearing a smile/ lookin’ like someone drugged me/ that wanted to unplug me”, as the cowbells shake in the background.
The album goes somewhat tepid after this — ‘Even you Brutus’ sounding like a bad pastiche of a Chili Peppers being done by East Coast act. ‘I’m With You’ isn’t RHCP at its best or even second best. There’s not even that one or two tracks that get buried in your head. But it’s not a bad album. I would reckon it could have easily been one of the band’s early albums. Or one that you can play while you keep talking.
Music for the taking Did anyone ever mention that Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard has a voice like Robert Plant? But before you get carried away, the Washington band’s music isn’t the heavy R’n’B of Led Zeppelin but the nuanced (sophisticated?) sound of ‘alternative’ rock. Listen to ‘Home is a fire’ and you’ll realise the frantic element in their music. The bar-room brawl element comes alive in the title song. If you raise your hand and ask me, “But sir, isn’t this Arcade Fire?” I certainly won’t give you low grades. The song circles like a paper plane, with Gibbard singing, “We won’t get far/ Flying circles inside a jar/ ’Cause the air we breathe/Is thinning with the words we speak.”
Codes and Keys, their seventh album, is actually a representative work, where the band’s music gets concentrated, as it does in the faux martial ‘Some boys’. Death Cab... shows that it can have a CCR moment in ‘Doors unlocked and open’, where chord changes become head shakes. There’s a fluorescent punch to this song that makes it haunting and nodding at the same time.
The Wilco-like ‘Unobstructed views’ has a special meaning for those listening (so you figure out what works for you in this trapeze-like song). Code and Keys is a an album that seeps into your system slowly, slowly, slowly. Inoculation is futile.