California's own Red Hot Chili Peppers are set to return with their 10th studio album I’m With You on August 30th via Warner Bros. Records, but Monday afternoon they gave fans a sneak preview of the entire fourteen-track collection. We took part in the experience, and put together a track-by-track first listen for CraveOnline readers.
I'm With You will be the first Chili Peppers album to feature new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaces the savant-like six-string wizardry of John Frusciante. John departed the band last year, leaving behind an incredible void of funk, creative guitar work and soaring falsetto harmonies that any replacement talent would likely fall short of filling the role adequately.
Klinghoffer isn't just any replacement, however, having toured with the Chili Peppers previously and played with Frusciante for years. His skills lend a different flavor set to the band's balance, and coupled with assistance from producer Rick Rubin (who's worked the knobs on the band's previous five albums), blends nicely into the new formula. He even holds his own on harmonies, though it's going to be a challenge to train the ears not to anticipate John's falsettos.
Without further delay, here's the track-by-track breakdown of the new Chili Peppers record, as made on first impression:
01. Monarchy of Roses
A quick-dip groove, "Monarchy" is a far greater pull than our first taste off the record, "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie". A watery vocal effect rolls through a murky verse before setting off proper. Josh's guitar features a similar rhythmic flurry to John Frusciante, but the new voice on backup vocals is going to take some getting used to.
02. Factory of Faith
Flea kicks off with a pulse-groove bass riff, a snare in quarter-time with a mid-tempo melody that leans towards Kiedis' rap-sing without ever fully committing. The instrumental jam comprising the final minute is an effects-rich wash of insectile mechanical guitar sounds within the parameters set by bass and drums.
03. Brendan’s Death Song
Beautiful acoustics open this gentle melody of the heart. The band slowly comes in, building to a beautiful flow that toys with the Cold War Kids' bombastic percussion-burst dynamic. The climax is incredible, a beautifully cascading set of counter-melodies and percussion with such a lovely, float-on-down finish.
Another Flea liftoff: "We're rolling everybody… it starts with bass." An agonizingly enticing slow-beep pacing pulls the track away from "Dani California" territory, while Anthony's doing his damnedest to break his own melody formula without breaking the song itself. Slow-funk head-nodder.
05. Annie Wants a Baby
Once again, Flea! A deep bass roll starts Annie Wants a Baby, then Chad, then Anthony & Josh together. I already smell an inescapable single, despite the general lack of strength as a link in the chain of the album. Not as big of a chorus as one would expect, but those drums sound golden, esp. in the verse. I think its single potential comes from its stylistic familiarity. It could be a curveball track off Stadium Arcadium.
06. Look Around
"Look Around" breaks free with the energy and a big guitar-driven opening, with a mid-groove Anthony rap verse & chorus like a gentler sequel to "Give It Away".
07. The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie
The song works far better in the greater context of the album, as opposed to a singular first impression. Concern had risen from the fact that the cowbell is louder than the guitar, but Josh works his charm by finding his place subtly. There's never a moment of six-string overpowering, though a general lack of solos on the album leaves a little to be desired. The solo that exists here around the two and a half minute mark doesn't exactly qualify as much more than a sonic bridge between sections.
08. Did I Let You Know
The tropical opening of "Did I Let You Know" seems to be the closest to a Strokes song RHCP's ever come. A bad thing? Not really.
"I'm comin' for ya cause I adore ya & I'd like to get inside your mass production – this indecision has got me cringin, I can't resist the smell of your seduction" – Anthony's still got the sex-charge double entendre game cornered, but who's singing backup? It sounds more like Pink than Klinghoffer, but then a trumpet solo breaks through and steals our attention away before we can chase down the answer.
Whatever the case, this track's gonna tear shit up live.
09. Goodbye Hooray
This one's dangerous, a bucking rhino rodeo and bursting bass fiasco. Josh finally unleashes hell on the guitar, but it's too low in the mix to carry the weight. Flea owns this day, a recurring theme here on I'm With You, and not an unwelcome one. You can draw a direct line between "Goodbye Hooray" and the boys that crafted Blood Sugar Sex Magik Psychedelic cool breeze breakdown around 2:30 is some serious Gorillaz goodness, with a wailing freakout guitar-solo frenzy in the final 25 seconds.
10. Happiness Loves Company
"I'll be yours tonight, living the dream of a meteorite" – Piano intro to a marching pace of "Happiness Loves Company" leads to an 80s-era earnest chorus melody, with the keys rising to help create a barroom singalong sensation. The "ba ba ba babababa" action in the final half minute gives it a vague WWII European underground bunker party kind of fun-danger flavor, butterscotch streaking through.
11. Police Station
"Police Station" is a title that brings jumpy power punch bursts of urgency to mind. The song itself is nothing at all like that. It's pretty, with a One Hot Minute kind of romance unfolding with "Tearjerker" sentimentality. It's chilly Autumn romance music with a soaring chorus reminiscent of "Venice Queen"'s chorus. Think One Hot Minute & By The Way interwoven & trimmed of fat. And that BASS!
Just looked at the progress bar & got excited to learn as Chad skittered in the breakdown that the song is only halfway over.Police Station is so lovely. Anthony's departure from the melody at the 4:12 is so perfect in its imperfection..
12. Even You Brutus?
A stinky-sex yelling match wrapped in a piano-stomping groove and squealy guitar delights. "Angels must've smoked some dust, singing songs about In God We Trust," like T.Bone Burnett screaming the words to "Palestine, Texas" rather than jeering 'em out.
13. Meet Me at the Corner
There's a late 60's stony pre-disco vibe going on here, a very gentle jam, a somber regret tucked inside a gorgeous melody. "Meet me at the corner and tell me what to do, cause I messed up on you, and had I known all that I do now… I guess that we're through now." Klinghoffer takes flight with a bluesy solo just before the minute mark, and if that's Josh on backups, there's a new dynamic on backup that's odd, enticing & feminine.
Unexpectedly, a complete Skynyrd finish, something Pearl Jam would pull out of their hat at live shows, unfolds as we think the song is ending. Surprising colors in the psychedelia. Fantastic.
14. Dance, Dance, Dance
The final track on I'm With You has a distinct early reminiscence of Incubus' "The Warmth". But only for a moment – then we get into some punchy hipshaker action, a 2am dance at a beach party with a bottle of red, copious laughter & romance on the horizon.
It's a fun-sex song, a fittingly celebratory end to a beautiful renewal for a handful of guys who’ve persevered through death, addiction, member changeups and all the trappings of a group that's made a home under the international spotlights for two decades running. Strong. And when the funk blast of "Dance, Dance, Dance" hits two and a half minutes in, it's a final shake-it-all rejuvenation, a gear-up before the transcendent singalong finale, a slow final turn into the moonlight.
Much credit is due to Rick Rubin for building a perfect balance on the album, both with Josh's introduction on guitar and Flea's intensified prominence in the makeup of the band''s sound. So far there isn't a "Venice Queen" level impact of depth and beauty on the album, but this is a different beast altogether – and there's a much broader prominence in the low end.
Rubin also found a really solid way to build Josh into the backup vocals role without creating a direct contrast to Frusciante's mark, a remarkable feat given how much of a trademark John's backups were.
Additionally, by the sound of things, we won't be waiting long for even more new music from the kings of Venice. According to Rubin, the band recorded enough material to release a second double album, following Stadium Arcadium, but ultimately decided not to. Rubin notes, "it was painful not to share all of the material that we had, but we felt it would be too much. We really wanted it to be twelve songs but it ended up being fourteen just because nobody could agree on which twelve."
Ultimately, Im With You strikes the listener on first impact as a double down of effort and focus in the vein of By The Way, far more than the overload of style and put-it-all-out-there that was Stadium Arcadium. You'll have to dig deeper to find the radio-smash tracks, but they're there, and they'll carry the band through another successful round of touring, sales and prosperity.
And damnit, I don't think there was one mention of California in the entire album.
Order I'm With You at the Red Hot Chili Peppers' official website.
CraveOnline's Rating: 9 out of 10