Warners - 2002 - 68 minutes
Perhaps the most satisfying thing about the Red Hot Chili Peppers' ever expanding success is that guitarist John Frusciante is around to enjoy it. Having experienced stardom very young with the albums 'Mother's Milk' and 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik', Frusciante left the band and then spent five years in a battle to wipe himself out. His rehabilitation and return came with 1999's 'Californication', but while that album was hailed as the quartet at their most pensive and mature, it pales in comparison to the moods and emotions they explore on 'By the Way'.
For years it seemed as if frontman Anthony Kiedis & Co were destined to grow old disgracefully, men for whom advancing years would not dull their appetite for churning out bass slapping soundtracks for college parties. 'Californication' dispelled that notion somewhat, this record wipes it out completely.
Suitably, the star is Frusciante. With a range and clarity that most outfits could only wish for, he makes every song bigger than itself without ever coming across as flashy or overwrought. It's the type of craft which would make even the laziest kid push themselves to practice harder and, crucially, coaxes his bandmates into upping their game completely.
Content to take a backseat behind Kiedis and Frusciante, bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith are wonderfully understated and the result is a sad, wistful record that even people who can't abide by the quartet will probably like. There's little in the way of upbeat, even less in the way of rockouts but there are numerous tracks - 'Universally Speaking', 'Dosed', 'Midnight' - among the finest in their 18-year-career. Listening, the melancholy of 'Under the Bridge' seems primitive to what they achieve here.
At 16 tracks and 68 minutes, they run the danger, as with past albums, of losing you towards the close. But the only real letdown here is the ska of 'On Mercury', which sounds like the type of thing that No Doubt would now baulk at. Yet even that track is playful rather than pathetic and glossed over by the playing on the closing troika of 'Minor Thing', 'Warm Tape' and 'Venice Thing'.
This is a band that had a lot to answer for, a band for whom sexy always outweighed smart and one that inspired countless budget outfits to try their luck on an unsuspecting public. But Frusciante has showed that their future can be every bit better and brighter than what came before. Growing old has been the makings of the four of them and on 'By the Way' you'd forgive them just about everything.
Tracklisting: By the Way - Universally Speaking - This Is the Place - Dosed - Don't Forget Me - The Zephyr Song - Can't Stop - I Could Die for You - Midnight - Throw Away Your Television - Cabron - Tear - On Mercury - Minor Thing - Warm Tape - Venice Queen