Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Unlimited Love’: perhaps their most sprawling yet consistent album

Reunited with guitar wizard John Frusciante, the band channel the best moments from their heyday to prove there's plenty more gas in the tank

Despite releasing four experimental funk rock records that also dabbled in reggae, heavy metal and psychedelia, it wasn’t until 1991’s ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magick’ that Red Hot Chili Peppers really hit upon some sort of wizardry. Four more albums came over the next 15 years (including 2002’s ‘By The Way’ and 1999’s ‘Californication’) with the Californian group quickly and comfortably establishing themselves as the biggest alternative rock band around.

Things started to change after the release of ambitious double album ‘Stadium Arcadium’ in 2006, though. Following years of non-stop touring, the band were exhausted (see their infamous Reading 2007 headline set) and went on a two-year hiatus later that year. When they reconvened in 2009, it was without guitarist John Frusciante, who wanted to focus on his solo work.

With touring musician Josh Klinghoffer promoted, the group released the functional ‘I’m With You’ in 2011. Rather than the glorious comeback they were perhaps hoping for, it was met with indifference: the band still sounded tired. In a bid to shake things up, they recruited Danger Mouse to work on a follow-up, replacing Rick Rubin after 25 years and six albums as the band’s producer.

And, sure, 2016’s ‘The Getaway’ had flashes of the bold brilliance that helped RHCP become household names in the ‘90s (the dreamy piano pop of ‘Dark Necessities’, the riff-heavy ‘Goodbye Angels’) but, for the most part, the group still seemed unsure of what they were supposed to be, now 30 years into a career that was rapidly moving from contemporary to legacy.

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On ‘Unlimited Love’, however, Red Hot Chili Peppers sound sure of themselves again. Comfortable, confident but with moments of gleeful chaos, album 12 sees the band rediscovering their groove.

With Frusciante re-joining the band in 2019 and the global pandemic giving the group nothing but time to work on new material, Red Hot Chili Peppers entered the studio with over 100 song ideas for ‘Unlimited Love’. In a recent exclusive cover story shot by legendary filmmaker Gus Van Sant, they told NME that they recorded almost 50 of those musical ideas (with Rubin back at the helm, no less) and that there’s already a “loose plan” for a follow-up. This work ethic is reflected on the album, as there’s not a moment of ‘Unlimited Love’ that sounds like the group were ever struggling for inspiration. An impressive feat considering the 17-song, 70-minute runtime.

There are plenty of moments of ‘Unlimited Love’ that hark back to the Chili Peppers’ heyday. ‘The Great Apes’ is an intense, sun-soaked wig-out complete with an attention-grabbing Flea bassline, while Anthony Kiedis’ warm, elastic vocals somehow makes the bizarre sound profound (“superstar don’t do the dishes,” he notes sagely). Elsewhere, the rumbling ‘Here Ever After’ boasts all the acrobatic urgency of 1991’s iconic ‘Give It Away’, ‘Veronica’ sounds like the Miami reboot of ‘Californication’ but with a stomping campfire twist and ‘Whatchu Thinkin’ is a loose, groove-driven jam session that mirrors the playful, relaxed spirit of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ live shows. It might have moments of familiarity, but ‘Unlimited Love’ never feels tired.

“When I’m with you, I feel like myself,” sings Kiedis on ‘Tangelo’. The closing acoustic track is more romantic than brotherly, but that opening line still feels like it could have been sung with the vocalist looking at his bandmates. That affection, that camaraderie and the chemistry can be felt across the record.

Still, for a band as revolutionary as the Red Hot Chili Peppers (almost 40 years in the game and there’s still not another group like them), it’s refreshing that so much of ‘Unlimited Love’ feels daring for the group. Yes, the hip-hop bounce of ‘One Way Traffic’ is built around a signature “hey-oh” chorus but between Kiedis singing “when did life get so damn cautious” and the jubilant guitar lines, it genuinely does feel like an excited adventure into the unknown – windows down, sunglasses on.

And there’s nothing but fresh ground being broken on ‘Bastards Of Light’, a menacing techno-trip through space with the sort of melodrama that would make Meat Loaf proud, while prog-rock epic ‘The Heavy Wing’ is perhaps the heaviest track the band have put their name to in at least two decades.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers have always been a band who cover a lot of ground, but ‘Unlimited Love’ is perhaps their most sprawling yet consistent album. It starts with the moody intensity of ‘Black Summer’, all melancholic and deliberate, while the jazzy, free-falling ‘Aquatic Mouth Dance’ is ridiculous to the point of brilliance. ‘Not The One’ could have been lifted from Gorillaz’s 2010 masterpiece ‘Plastic Beach’, all escapist fantasy and raw emotion, before the free loving ‘Poster Child’ takes Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ to the disco, name-checking Led Zeppelin, The Ramones and Duran Duran in the process.

There’s a lot to ‘Unlimited Love’, both in scale and ambition. It’s at once familiar – without being boring – and fresh (but never at the expense of the band’s identity). On their 12th album, Red Hot Chili Peppers not only get comfortable with their own impressive legacy, but prove there’s plenty more to come.

Details

Release date: April 1

Record label: Warner

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