If the Red Hot Chili Peppers
have come to realise anything over a career of
nearly 20 years, then it’s that enough shallowness eventually starts to
make you pretty deep. Over that time there have been drugs, there have been
girls, and there have almost certainly been parties – now we find the group
in the unenviable position of surveying the aftermath, and trying to clear
up the mess.
Or we would, were this 1999, and this a review of the band’s
‘Californication’ album – confessional, occasionally heartbroken, and
containing a song about going surfing with your friends. The thing is, so
monstrously successful was this often downbeat record, it feels that with
‘By The Way’ the group have got the confidence to do exactly what they want
again. Their hearts are on their sleeves, for sure, but their hearts seem to
be in their work as well.
And ‘By The Way’ is, by and large, very good. By god is it ever long (it’s
16 tracks), but on the whole it showcases enough of what makes the
a very good rock group – chief among these are John
Frusciante’s excellent, inventive guitar playing, and the fact that it is
with tremendous conviction that Anthony Kiedis belts out even the most
Stylistically all over the shop (there’s a Spanish-sounding thing called
‘Cabron’, ‘Tear’ sounds like Paul McCartney, while ‘On Mercury’ is
dangerously close to ska-punk), there is a confused but occasionally
inspirational band at work here. Certainly, there are bellowing rock ballads
that you have heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers
do a thousand times before, albeit with
different names, but there are equally a clutch of songs that brilliantly
capture their regretful, reformed, but still ultimately playful essence.
‘By The Way’ (the single), sets the tone. In it, we find Anthony Kiedis
waiting, rather unbelievably, [I]”in line to see the show” (surely “in line
for an early dinner reservation at Spago”), but compensates for this
immediately with a completely unpredictable torrent of noise. ‘Can’t Stop’
sees them revisiting their funk rock blueprint, then, best of the lot,
there’s ‘This Is The Place’. Basically ‘Under The Bridge Pt 2’, a heroin
confessional with a fantastic chorus, and the moment where you could most
realistically believe that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are actually a rock
band of the quality of[a][/a].
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
today define themselves by what they were once,
and how they’re not like that anymore. Not wasted. Not stupid. And
remarkably, not uncool, either.