Side-project, fan-friendly, jazz-rock: all hyphenated horrors seemingly designed solely to strike fear in the heart of any music fan. But above all of these is perhaps the double-album. From The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ to The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’, the double-album has always been the scourge of the over-productive band. Whether it’s the apparent lapse in quality control, the invariable variety, a lack of patience or the sheer audacity, they’re objects to be treated with utmost caution. So – deep breath – how about a double, quasi-concept album, inspired by Kabbalah philosophy, 28 tracks long
and spanning two discs bearing the spectacularly proggish titles ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Mars’? You’d have to be pretty special to get away with that.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, however, seem keen to rise to the challenge. They even recorded so much material, the original intention was to release three albums, at six-month intervals. ‘Stadium Arcadium’ (like The Libertines’ Arcadia, only super-sized, naturally) finds the Chilis halfway through their 40s and well over halfway through their nine lives. In their 23 years together, the goof-ball frat boys have lived harder and faster than most bands dream of. You want drink, drugs, fast cars and loose women? This lot have the book of rock clichés tattooed on their balls.
Now, though, most of the band are proud parents and their concerns are somewhat different. These days, it’s all about meditation and home cooking, gated mansions and new sets of teeth. Which means we get songs about pets dying (‘Death Of A Martian’) and marriage proposals written to music (‘Hard To Concentrate’); the latter written by singer Anthony Kiedis for bassist Flea and his girlfriend. “Finally, you’ve found someone perfect and finally you’ve found yourself”, Kiedis sings over tasteful brushed drum work, with all this “finally” talk betraying a band relieved to have reached a pitstop in life. Drugs are (for now) out of the picture, life and love are reaffirmed. Declaring a ‘Party On Your Pussy’ while wearing socks on their cocks, this ain’t.
That’s not to say they’ve turned into simpering acoustic-botherers though; this album yields a lot of great songs. ‘Hump De Bump’ is straight back to the old school – fast, goofy guitar toying, with reverberating bass that jumps around the frets à la ‘Love Rollercoaster’, with vocal gymnastics to match and odd brass squiggles. ‘Storm In A Teacup’ is a P-funk ‘Freaky Styley’ classic, sanded down to ‘Californication’-era smoothness, and John Frusciante gets to do what he does best on the likes of ‘Turn It Again’ and ‘Animal Bar’. Here is a player increasingly interested in the sonic, tonal capabilities of his instrument as opposed to fret wankery. Somewhere along the line the Chilis got sophisticated on our asses.
‘Charlie’ (not just about cocaine we’re relentlessly informed) is a syncopated treat that stumbles into anthem territory, while the likes of ‘Snow (Hey Oh)’ sees them opt for power-songwriting from the outset, throwing on “hey oh, whoo ah oh” choruses labelled “For Crowds At Wireless Festival Only”. ‘Hey’ is another titanic tune lumbered with wah-wah-esque guitar solos – an awesome prospect and even better if you’re partial to a bit of ’80s Eric Clapton among your coffee table lounge jazz.
Their main problem here is that they often cower behind studio trickery, as on the vocal echoes of ‘We Believe’ or ‘Strip My Mind’’s Gregorian chanting. ‘C’Mon Girl’ comes complete with ‘Thriller’-esque manic laughing and cosmic guitar sounds, which pushes the somewhat inflated epics to bursting point, as does the Buck Rogers gibberish during ‘Tell Me Baby’. Also, there’s nothing particularly new here. Coming across as more of a consolidation of past glories, the recent video for ‘Dani California’ shows them imitating everyone from Bowie to Cobain, unaware that pastiche is the last refuge of the unoriginal.. The Chilis are like a relentless hit machine, farting out tunes most bands would sell their grandparents for when it comes to second (let alone ninth) album time. So what if there’s a healthy dollop of filler here? If you condensed ‘Stadium Arcadium’ down to 10 tracks, you’d be left with something special – that’s what MP3 players were made for. The biggest charge we can levy on these Californian raisins is that of nudging the death of the album that little bit closer.