Sound — 8
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have always had a distinct sound created by blending aspects of punk, pop and funk. Sometimes one of these apsects is more prominent than the other, "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" was very funk and hard rock driven, whereas more recent titles "Californication" and "By the Way" were more based on melody and infectious choruses. The three aforementioned albums were agruably the three greatest RHCP albums of thier career and all were recorded with legendary guitarist John Frusciante. Now that he has left the band a second time, newbie Josh Klinghoffer has stepped into the ring to take his place and no doubt be heavily judged and examined by devout Frusciante fans. But he is certainly not a Frusciante clone. Klinghoffer is one of many things that has altered but not completely changed RHCP's sound on "I'm With You". His more textured, subtle guitar work may go unnoticed at first, but it is sure to grow on you after a few listens. That is unless you enjoy the more flashy, loud style of play Frusciante employed on much of the bloated "Stadium Arcadium"; there's little of that here. I'm not suggesting Klinghoffer is the only fresh sound on this new album, the other three established band members have grown into something that compliments their new guitarist beautifully. Flea creates some superb bass lines throughout the album thanks to his music theory lessons during the break. Chad Smith is clearly adept at playing all styles of rhythm, and he employs many of them on these 14 tracks (listen to "Ethiopia" for an example of his tricky, almost off-rhythm drumming prowess). And Anthony Kiedis' voice only continues to grow more pure and haunting, although he does resort back to good ol' fashioned rapping from time to time, it wouldn't be an RHCP album without that really. So, the sound on "I'm With You" is still RHCP, but it's not more of the same. It's changed enough to be seen as growth, but hasn't changed too much to be seen as experimental. It's better than an album full of the same old isn't it? A few new fans may be won over by their new, cleaner, less heavy sound, but plenty (if not all) of their millions of old fans should be satisfied also.
Lyrics — 8
Kiedis has always provided interesting lyrics, hence why they are so memorable. Fans will always chant along to his words even if they make little or no sense to anyone but him. But that's not a bad thing, some could argue that Kiedis' often off the wall lyrics are in such a way in order to fit more with the melody of the songs. It's personal opinion, I personally would scarifice the odd meaningful line in order to hear some nonsense that bounces off the rhythm of the song in a downright catchy way. Not all of Kiedis' lyrics are nonsense though, on the more upbeat songs sure, he has fun but that's when he can. it's on the ballads, the emotional pieces that he really showcases that he can write haunting, dark and undeniably touching poetry. He delivers his words in a matching fashion to make them even more effective.
Overall Impression — 8
Track by track: 1) Monarchy of Roses: the first few seconds, the sound of a band tuning, setting and warming up their tools. It then rolls into a tense, booming and shaky verse that wouldn't be out of place on a metal album. But then, when most would think "God, RHCP have gone emo", the foursome dramatically switch to a funky, classic RHCP chorus that I defy you not to nod your head to; it is almost reminiscent of disco music. A brilliant and original opener: 8.5/10 2) Factory of Faith: Flea's bass kicks off proceedings here. It's arguably his best on the album; funky, fast and catchy, Flea is back and better than ever on this album. Kiedis' sing-rap technique is back in full swing here also. Listen out for Klinghoffer's subtle guitar work on the verses, chicken scratches have never been so pleasing to the ear. The chorus is bound to be a sing-a-long at concerts, and it is one of the better ones on the album: 9/10 3) Brendan's Death Song: amidst the funky, fuel-injected start to the album sits one of the most mellow ones. Written as a tribute, this soing is being rightfully cited as the most beautiful on the album. With its gentle acoustic opening, warm bass and atmospheric drum work, it is genuinely touching. The stealer of the show on this one, though, is Kiedis. Not only are his lyrics poignant and personal as ever, his vocal work hits all thr right notes so that you will literaly get goosebumps on every mention of "like I said you know I'm almost dead/you know I'm almost gone". This ballad builds into a powerful send off, ending this masterpiece on a high note and putting it up there with RHCP's best work: 9.5/10 4) Ethiopia: the infectious bass of Flea opens this track as well, and before you know it Smith's odd drums burst in along with Klinghoffer's beeping, almost echoing guitar. Smith is the master on this track, as the drums are the most memorable part of it. It almost makes it not sound right, but if you listen closely and appreciate the work of how it's done, it's just downright entertaining. The chorus is so-so, but Klinghoffer produces one of the best solos on the album which makes up for it: 8/10 5) Annie Wants a Baby: a gem of a track. Many could skip over this due to its darker sound and lyrical content, but this is one of the best tracks for Klinghoffer. His sharp playing is more in the foreground than ever here, and thank God. This is the most Frusciante-esque you'll ever hear Klinghoffer, and it's a great marriage. This song is one of the best on the album, even if the chorus lacks a bit of power, it's more reminiscient of post-Californication RHCP than any other track on the album: 8.5/10 6) Look Around: Kiedis himself said that he fought for this track to make it on the album just so he could play it live as it is so much fun. I can understand why. This unashamedly jumpy track knows it's there purely to party and bop around to, and it doesn't care. Classic funky verses, with Kiedis sexual lyrics clipping in and out of chirpy guitar quiffs and groovy bass. The chorus is a celbration, sure it's repetitive and only has three different words spanning six lines, but it's impossible not to find catchy. It's samey, it's dumb and it's no piece of artistic genius, but who cares?: 8.5/10 7) The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie: the lead single of tha album harkens back to the typical RHCP formula for this album; funky bass line, powerful drums, textured guitar chords and vocals with attitude. And there's a surprise: cowbell. And its use is simply inspired. The verses are so damn funky, they could be played on loop for hours at parties and the dancing would never cease. But the chorus is a bit of a let down. The guitar isn't pumped up enough in the mix, making it seem like just a crowd chant led by Kiedis. The use of "hey now" (or the word "hey" in general to start choruses) is getting a bit old now. But then there's an enjoyable minute-long outro, with Kiedis boo-bopping and talking nonsense over it, you can't help but love it really: 8.5/10 8) Did I Let You Know: kicking off the second half of the album is this track, and it would be nice to have a bit of a mix up in the proceedings as the first half was typical RHCP funk punk for the most part. "Did I Let You Know" is certainly different, just listen out for the star of the show, the trumpet solo just before the halfway mark. Throw that in with gentle singing, one of the best, most original guitar riffs from Klinghoffer on the album, at long last a half-decent chorus with superb backing vocals, and you've got a good'un: 8.5/10 9) Goodbye Hooray: definitely the heaviest, most aggressive track on the album which some are bound to love and others are sure to dislike. The verses are scratchy and loud, lacking a bit of direction I think, and the chorus resorts back to the word "around" being repeated a bit too much. It's not just a heavy filler track to move them away from being placed in the pop genre though, as there's a crazily exciting bass frenzy in there to keep you going: 7/10 10) Happiness Loves Company: Smith's marching drum work and a bouncy, honky-tonk style piano tune lay the foundation for this at first seemingly dark track. But then the jangly, cameraderie-filled chorus enters the fray and transforms this track into the most uplifting on the album, and the closest you'll find to the pop genre. Some may consider it to airy-fairy, but the title gives you enough of a warning. It's bound to cheer you up, the piano is the bset thing on offer here: 8/10 11) Police Station: Kiedis' storytelling is at is very best on this song, and so are Klinghoffer's soft vocal touches; it's not like falsetto Frusciante, but more gentle and pure. The chorus has all the power it needs and sounds truly triumphant, but it's the verses that paint the best picture in the listener's head since the anthem "Under the Bridge". I'm not saying the song is as good as "Under the Bridge", but it creates just as strong an image: 8.5/10 12) Even You Brutus?: probably the album's most experimental track, it has piano, audio effects and spoken verse all within the first verse. Kiedis' barking rapping in the verses can grind on one's ears after a while, but the unbearably funky pre-chorus that combines wah-wah guitar with bouncy piano and fast, snappy vocals is a joy. One of the highpoints of the album is these insanely funky pre-choruses, I dare you to say otherwise. The chorus mentions Brutus and Judas cleverly, but is still a bit unoriginal and uses the dreaded "hey" to start it. Apart from that, this unique track is definitely one to savour if you're open to a bit of experimentation: 8.5/10 13) Meet Me at the Corner: a nice cool-down song as the album draws to a close. This song has tender vocals, a gentle, muted bass and exquisite guitar work. Smith also gets props for his restraint here and completing the package to create a soft, emotive ballad. It's not all relaxing here though, as the song does build into something more, similar to "Brendan's Death Song". Klinghoffer even ends the song with some guitar work that's clearly influence by country music. Boy, he has definitely showcased his playing chops by this point of the album by spanning the genres. A triumph: 8.5/10 14) Dance, Dance, Dance: like "Look Around", this song is just an instruction to party. It's not a heavy mad cap rollercoaster, but it's the most atmospheric song on the album. It echoes, it claps and it just feels so firendly you can't help but smile. It's as if the new RHCP line up are playing themselves out, getting further away down the road, but still waving back playing their farewell tune after a superb ride of an album: 8.5/10 Overall, "I'm With You" is a very concise and rounded package, and an improvement over the sprawling, didn't-need-to-be-a-double-album "Stadium Arcadium". Klinghoffer is fully cemented into the group and he, along with the growth of the others, has altered the RHCP sound not into something necessarily better or worse, but something different. Something highly enjoyable. I would put "I'm With You" just about on par with "Californication" and "By the Way".