You’d think after selling around 65 million records that they might buy a couple of shirts.
Flea and Anthony Kiedis have been doing their freaky styley funk game dance on us for a quarter century. And we’ve all been on to them in varying degrees since they laid that one hot egg the first time guitarist John Frusciante left the group. After their wild early days, highlighted by 1989’s Mother’s Milk, they broke through with both a mainstream hit and a bona fide classic in 1991 with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Then they signed mismatched free agent guitarist Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction for One Hot Minute in 1995 and set the controls for autopilot.
Californication, a good but probably overrated record was a nice hit album in 1999, proving that the Red Hot Chili Peppers on autopilot were still good enough to rule at the turn of the century. Three years later, By The Way worked the same formula like a speedbag, californicating itself into yet. Another. Chili Peppers Album.
And so it went, all-world bassist and general maniac Flea fired up the furious funk and Anthony Kiedis jumped around with different hairstyles and they never fucking wore shirts and it was all good. The underrated Chad Smith is an effortless badass of a drummer whose talents sometimes sound wasted in the tight album-version arrangements. They dropped a bloated double album five years ago that even their fans admitted was too long as they talked themselves into liking it.
But all the people who don’t love the Red Hot Chili Peppers pretty much hate them. And we all know it’s cuz Anthony Kiedis is annoying and while I’m sure he’s a great guy and he’s an essential element to their sound and “he is what he is” as they say… he still sucks. And that’s a shitty thing to say and I should delete it but fuck it, let’s leave it there.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to their new album, I’m With You. It’s got it’s moments, but it sounds like yet another bland reincarnation of that same album they’ve been making starting with Californication. A shell of a shell of a former band. And yet Flea still rips it, and even though they sorely miss the once-again departed Frusciante, new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer provides plenty of interesting moments (and space for Flea’s musicality).
With producer Rick Rubin still at the helm (as he has been since Blood Sugar Sex Magik), you’d expect a bit more quality control and less filler. But perhaps Rubin doesn’t have the control on this project to tell these guys “Hey half these songs suck.” That would be surprising, given his track record, but it’s possible that working with RHCP is cant-say-no money and he just pushes buttons to make them sound kick ass when they jump out of your car radio speakers.
This isn’t really a review. What’s the point? We all knew before hearing I’m With You that hardcore Chili Peppers fans would dig it, and the rest of us would shrug at the mediocrity and bob our heads to the few cool parts that the backing band inevitably supplies behind Keidis’ nursery-rhyme gibberish.
As for those professionals who did take the time to properly review the album, here’s a sampling:
“As always, Anthony Kiedis rotates from drunk fratboy to enlightened rehab counselor to pseudo-beat poet. When he bothers to write melodies, they’re typically memorable, but he’s still a lousy rapper. As always, there are moments when you wish he’d just shut the hell up since he’s distracting from an excellent groove. I’m With You still sounds very much like a Chili Peppers album. That means, of course, loads of filler.”
“On the band’s 10th studio album, [RHCP] create an album that’s way stronger musically than it is lyrically. But that’s nothing new. [It] is stuff that will probably sound just fine beneath NFL highlight reels but fails to gel when the volume is up…”
“[Kiedis] raps such outrageous nonsense that you wonder why someone hasn’t created an online Kiedis-lyric generator. “Did I Let You Know” rhymes “cheeky” with what sounds like “Mozambique-y”, but special mention must also go to “Ethiopia,” on which words are abandoned altogether for some Teletubbies vowel sounds (“ee-i-oh-i-ee-i-a”).”
“While Flea remains an appealingly agile bassist, his playing on I’m With You is as shticky as Kiedis’ limp lover-man scat, which reaches its nadir on the dippy “Did I Let You Know” when he sings, not-so-seductively, “I’d like to get inside your mass production.” Given how professional yet lifeless I’m With You is, it makes sense that Kiedis would want to fuck an assembly line. As the forgettable I’m With You shows, there’s a difference between surviving and thriving.”
“Stretching to 60 minutes and 14 tracks, the album is more ambitious than the songwriting will allow. Filler abounds. Buying Anthony Kiedis as a sensitive crooner is the album’s biggest hurdle. He’s always been more about style than substance, a cartoon rapper and jive-talking singer. Los Angeles’ funk jesters sound like they’re treading water.”
-Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
“14 songs over an hour’s running time is a lot of nonsense to digest.”
-The Telegraph (UK)
Finally, perhaps the most glorious take down comes courtesy of David Edwards at Drowned In Sound:
“Sadly, their unforgivable Achilles heel still remains Anthony Kiedis’s appalling, cod-philosophical drivel that masquerades as lyricism. From the sixth-form clumsy and cringe-worthy (Put my peg into your square/run around like we just don’t care) to the crassly stupid (“she was the cutest thing that I ever did see/a drink in her hand and I don’t mean tea”), the whole thing eventually starts to become unintentionally comedic, a little like watching Battlefield Earth or The Room. There’s an argument that rock and roll shouldn’t be about making statements but this band appears to be engaged in a continual attempt to proclaim profundity while delivering banality. And when they fail so miserably, you feel justly aggrieved.
“Despite Klinghoffer doing an excellent job (he’s the most interesting thing about the record by far), the lack of Frusciante’s unique skill only serves to draw closer attention to how banal the songs presented on I’m With You are, delivering a series of dreary funk-by-numbers platitudes…. Musically, I’m With You mostly sticks to a tired formula of bass intro, enter drums, fast-funk grooves, wah-guitar and Captain Nonsense rap-singing over the top. There are occasional moments of subtly but the most damming indictment of the album is how staggeringly one-paced and one-dimensional the song structures are. The occasional moment of excitement rises from the trench, then thinks better and slinks back down into the mire. Equally unforgivable are the dearth of choruses and hooks (listen to ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ to see how a tense, juddering verse can be flattened by a laughable excuse for a chorus). There’s nothing truly atrocious on the album, but neither is there anything particularly noteworthy. It exists, therefore it is. One long slab of tedious mediocrity.
“I doubt this record will shock, disappoint or surprise anyone. If you’re a hardcore fan, you’ll praise the grooves, find meaning in Kiedis’s gobbledygook and defend their ‘staying power’. If you hate them, you’ll find more ammunition here… Granted, it’s not repulsive. But it is trite, banal and adds nothing to the legacy of the band beyond another entry on Wikipedia and another tour to remind people of how “they’re really good live, y’know?” Creatively, this is a band in a terminal, unrecoverable spiral-dive. Nevermind the continual rebooting of their franchise, this should be the time to quietly lay the series to rest and focus on the box-sets. This band simply have nothing more to say.”
-Drowned In Sound