28 years and 80 million sales later it’s business and funkiness as usual for the Chilis on their tenth album. Bearded oracle Rick Rubin sits sage-like behind the control desk, Anthony Kiedis still sounds like a hyperactive but soulful jitterbug, Flea has been off studying music theory and playing with Thom Yorke and Damon Albarn, Chad Smith has been moonlighting in a freakoid metal supergroup and band linchpin John Frusciante has flown the coop.
Uh oh. The last time Frusciante, who joined the band for 1989’s Mother’s Milk, wasn’t involved on a Chili’s album they turned in 1995’s lacklustre One Hot Minute. As a replacement, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction merely proved he had better cheekbones than guitar chops and it was only when Frusciante cleaned up his act and rejoined the band that the Chilis found their mofo mojo again.
Word is the reason why the Chili’s last album, 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, was such a decadent monstrosity was due to internal conflict over what songs to leave on and what to leave out so in true Chili’s style they compromised by leaving everything on.
Perhaps similar creative conflicts hastened Frusciante’s exit for I’m With You. In any case his second departure was amicable and he’s concentrating on his solo career. His replacement this time is 31-year-old Josh Klinghofer who’s previously played with Frusciante himself, PJ Harvey, Beck, and the Butthole Surfers.
The good news is that on I'm With You, the new boy does mostly a great job filling the guitar strap and effects pedals of one of modern rock's great stylists. He essays a lovely Andy Summers-like shimmer on Ethiopia and some fine funk filigree on Annie Wants a Baby while Did I Let You Know and Goodbye Hooray are both a riot with Kiedis reeling off some stellar examples of his nonsense verse.
Rain Dance Maggie, however, is a fast descent into self parody complete with needless squalls of distorted guitar and Meet Me at The Corner is just an anonymous sketch which strangely turns into a country rock song in the dying minutes. Klinghofer steps back totally on several songs like the barrel-housing Happiness Loves Company, a fine song which recalls that other great LA band The Doors and name checks The Mothers of Invention, an act who once had something of RHCP's gonzo decadence.
Kiedis' talent for penning genuinely touching tunes is here in the shape of Brendan’s Death Song, a lament for the late Brendan Mullen, owner of LA club The Masque and the man who gave the young Chilis their first break back in the druggy mists of California’s post-punk past.
Kiedis, who has been clean and sober for over a decade and is now a proud father, also continues to speak for the brain-fried constituency of LA that the city’s burghers would rather sweep under the interstate on Police Station. It’s a touching lament for a drug casualty that comes in waves of gorgeous melodies and plaintive piano which turn to liquid under the California sun.
It may be an hour long and contain 14 tracks but I’m With You sounds like a minor work after the bold statements of the last few Chili albums. It certainly lacks the strung-out longing of their best work but that’s fine because despite their vast wealth, there is still something of a gypsy spirit about RHCP.
As they near 50, they sound like they’ve just re-emerged from the scorched canyons of Death Valley to reappraise the delights and demons of the big city through fresh eyes.