Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ eagerly anticipated ninth album, their first since By the Way four years ago, is well worth the long wait. Originally there were 38 songs which they planned to release as three albums at six-monthly intervals. Instead they cut the ten weakest tracks to end up with a two-hour double album which is their finest achievement to date. A 28-carat gold masterpiece.
Unlike Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds‘ magnificent 2004 double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, which differentiated between brooding anger and redemptive love respectively, the two discs Jupiter and Mars don’t seem to have their own distinct character. And the titles don’t seem to make any sense either – what these planets, or ancient Roman gods, have to do with tales of LA angst is anyone’s guess. In fact, let’s face it, the Chilis’ lyrics have never been their strong point anyway.
But who cares when Stadium Arcadium is such a triumph of melodic power and driving rhythms. Normally you’d expect a few fillers with so many songs but here’s there not a single duff track. Killer tunes with rousing choruses, soaring vocal harmonies, scorching guitar solos – what more could you want in a rock band?
A lot of credit must go to the Chilis’ long-time rap-rock producer Rick Rubin, who has instilled discipline into this sometimes notoriously self-indulgent band. They are one hell of a tight outfit these days, extra lean with not an ounce of flab. Here Anthony Kiedis is in irresistibly fine vocal form, John Frusciante – a much better guitarist since his ‘sabbatical’ from the Chilis in the mid-90s – has never played better, displaying an impressive variety of sound textures, and then there’s Flea’s unmistakably heavy grooving, slap-bass sound and the precision hardcore drumming of Chad Smith.
After almost 25 years, admittedly with various personnel changes, the Chilis have improved with age, probably because these forty-somethings are now more focused on the music itself rather than the seductive distractions of sex, drugs and fame. They made their name in the ’80s, of course, with their own brand of funk punk/metal but while they produced some outstanding songs, the albums tended to be patchy affairs.
Purists will no doubt disagree, and deplore the Chilis’ move towards stadium anthems, but their most consistently high-quality work has really come since 1999’s breakthrough album Californication, marrying a recognizably West Coast rock sound with funky grooves. More commercially mainstream for sure but without selling their soul.
Stadium Arcadium doesn’t really throw up any surprises as, like U2‘s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, it’s more of a summation of what the Chilis have achieved so far. The surprise is that a band that’s been together so long can still be this sharp, from the heavy rock of the single Dani California and Led Zep-pastiche Readymade, to the slick funk of Hump De Bump and Beasties-style angry rap of Storm In A Teacup, and the slower, more melodic Snow (Hey Oh) and Slow Cheetah. The problem is, when you’ve done something this good, where do you go from here?