Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers Return Re-Energized on ‘Unlimited Love,’ a Mix of the Familiar and the Fresh


Adrian GarroCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

There’s a certain comfort to the Red Hot Chili Peppers sounding like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which they do throughout Unlimited Love, a sprawling new album released this week that finds guitarist John Frusciante back in the mix for the first time since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium.

A lot has happened in the years between the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers‘ previous record, 2016’s The Getaway, and its latest, beyond the significant development of Frusciante returning for the first time since leaving the band in 2009. He resumed guitar duties for Josh Klinghoffer, who had stepped up to man the position after Frusciante’s 2009 departure.

On a grander scale, the gap between albums has seen the rock and roll scene lose several icons from the Chili Peppers’ 1990s’ heyday, era-defining stars like Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell (who passed in 2017) and, most recently, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins (who died on March 25 at age 50).

We’ve never been as removed from the ’90s alt/rock aesthetic as we are today, as these deaths of icons of the era have made startlingly clear. To have a rejuvenated Red Hot Chili Peppers craft a 17-song opus of an album with its beloved guitarist back in the mix, then, feels like a welcomed blast of warmth and familiarity amid the tumult.

(None of this is meant as a slight to Klinghoffer, who was an excellent addition to the mix and provided some excellent guitar work on 2011’s I’m With You and The Getaway and formed a quick chemistry with the rest of the band — Frusciante’s return just sparked an excitement around the band that many assumed would never return).

Click here to pick up Unlimited Love on CD from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pick up Unlimited Love on 2-LP from our Rock Cellar Store

red hot chili peppers unlimited love

Be warned, though: Unlimited Love is a Red Hot Chili Peppers record.

That is to say, it almost certainly won’t convert anyone who’s long resisted the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band, whether due to the group’s early ’90s infamy, the ubiquity of its various era-defining rock radio hits or the concept of “funk-rock” in general.

With the majority of the band — vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and Frusciante — pushing 60, everyone’s very comfortable with their collective sound. Kiedis’ lyrics on nearly every song are as enigmatic as ever, partly the result of an “abstract” lyrical composition style that he described to Zane Lowe — his overall presence essentially acting as an instrument as much as Flea’s customarily dynamic bass, Smith’s thunderous drums and Frusciante’s fluttery guitar leads and dreamy tone.

For 17 songs, Unlimited Love is the sound of a veteran band in the pocket, so to speak, a batch of songs from especially prolific recording sessions that may inspire some to deride the album as “safe.” But diving into the record, it becomes apparent quickly how uniquely inspired the band felt by this new chapter, branching out on a few occasions within the parameters of that “classic” sound. For this album, the band reunited with producer/old friend Rick Rubin, who helmed previous albums Blood Sugar Sex Magik, One Hot Minute, Californication, By the Way, Stadium Arcadium and I’m With You.

“I really didn’t want to tell the same old story that we’ve been hearing for the last 50 years in rock music,” Kiedis said in a new NME interview about the album. “I liked reaching out in 10,000 directions and seeing what was out there. We weren’t limiting ourselves but trying to tap into something that is honest and emotional. Hopefully we’ve said something that hasn’t been said before, or at least said it in a way that hasn’t.” He went on to credit Frusciante’s return as a “monumental change in our lives,” one powerful enough to inspire the creative burst laid out on this record.

“Black Summer” was probably the best option for a lead single to signal this new/old era, its familiar “Red Hot Chili Peppers radio single” vibe paired with a performance video reintroducing Frusciante to the world:

But that song may not be accurately representative of Unlimited Love as a whole, because the length of the record allows the Chilis to stretch their feet a bit and chase all kinds of ideas, however “out there” they may be.

“Aquatic Mouth Dance” straddles that line, starting out with a leading bass line from Flea that would have fit on Stadium Arcadium, building to an unexpected chorus of vocals and, later, a horn section.

The record’s middle section specifically — “It’s Only  Natural”, “She’s a Lover,” “These Are The Ways,” “Whatchu Thinkin’,” “Bastards of Light” and “White Braids & Pillow Chair” — is among the strongest sequences of the bunch, some stylistic curveballs thrown into the mix. There’s definitely a case to be made for “It’s Only Natural” sliding into rotation alongside classic RHCP radio hits like “Soul to Squeeze” and “Otherside,” as it’s one of the standout songs here.

Ambitiously, “These Are The Ways” was chosen as a single, a cinematic music video debuted by the band as the album hit streaming platforms. “Have we all had enough? Have we all had too much?” asks Kiedis in the opening lines, before the music kicks in and the song takes an unpredictable ride through varying tempos and rhythms, Kiedis name-dropping “Bruce” (presumably Springsteen) and “George” (presumably Harrison) “singing for their own reward,” before culminating in a furious hard-rock ending. It’s a journey.

red hot chili peppers band pic 2021

Another of the LP’s strongest stretches closes things out, “Veronica” leading into the swaying, keyboard-backed “Let ‘Em Cry,” another example of the band letting its hair down and really going for it.

“The Heavy Wing” is likely to be among fans’ favorites from Unlimited Love, echoing vocals from Kiedis giving way to a soaring chorus sung by Frusciante. Tucked away as the penultimate song on the record, the dreamy composition is a reward for those who really dig deep into it.

Red Hot Chili Peppers have often capped their albums with especially compelling tracks; see “Road Trippin'” on Californication and “Venice Queen” from By The Way, “Death of a Martian” from Stadium Arcadium and even One Hot Minute‘s “Transcending” for past examples.

“Tangelo” fits the bill here on Unlimited Love, a tender acoustic ballad that brings calm to the chaos that came before it. Frusciante’s guitar gently weeping to Kiedis’ lyrics that paint a picture of wistful melancholy that could possibly be inspired by the 2021 passing of Blackie Dammett, Kiedis’ father, who died at age 81 of dementia. Given its stark difference from the other songs on this record, the track brings the roller coaster of sounds explored on Unlimited Love to a beautiful conclusion.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of those acts whose music takes you somewhere. Maybe it’s memories of driving down the Pacific Coast Highway under the sun to “Dani California.” Maybe it’s a flashback to the summer of 1992, skateboarding down the block with your friends. Perhaps it’s riding in the car on your way to school, “Scar Tissue” playing on the local adult contemporary/pop radio station.

The journey of Unlimited Love is one of renewed passion and vigor, Frusciante’s return clearly injecting new life into the band’s creative well. While it may be a few tracks too long, it’s hard to knock the effort.

Unlimited Love track listing:

1. Black Summer
2. Here Ever After
3. Aquatic Mouth Dance
4. Not the One
5. Poster Child
6. The Great Apes
7. It’s Only Natural
8. She’s a Lover
9. These Are the Ways
10. Whatchu Thinkin’
11. Bastards of Light
12. White Braids ; Pillow Chair
13. One Way Traffic
14. Veronica
15. Let ‘Em Cry
16. The Heavy Wing
17. Tangelo

Catch the Chili Peppers on their global world tour in the months ahead:

Europe

Sat Jun 04 – Seville, Spain – Estadio La Cartuja De Sevilla=
Tue Jun 07 – Barcelona, Spain – Estadi Olimpic=
Fri Jun 10 – Nijmegen, Netherlands – Goffertpark=
Wed Jun 15 – Budapest, Hungary – Puskas Stadium=
Sat Jun 18 – Firenze, Italy – Firenze Rocks (festival date)
Wed Jun 22 – Manchester, UK – Emirates Old Trafford=
Sat Jun 25 – London, UK – London Stadium~
Wed Jun 29 – Dublin, Ireland – Marlay Park~
Fri Jul 01 – Glasgow, UK – Bellahouston Park~
Sun Jul 03 – Leuven, Belgium – Rock Werchter (festival date)
Tue Jul 05 – Cologne, Germany – RheinEnergieStadium=
Fri Jul 08 – Paris, France – Stade de France~
Tue Jul 12 – Hamburg, Germany – Volksparkstadion=

North America

Sat Jul 23 – Denver, CO – Empower Field at Mile High*
Wed Jul 27 – San Diego, CA – Petco Park*
Fri Jul 29 – Santa Clara, CA – Levi’s Stadium+
Sun Jul 31 – Los Angeles, CA – SoFi Stadium+
Wed Aug 03 – Seattle, WA – T-Mobile Park^
Sat Aug 06 – Las Vegas, NV – Allegiant Stadium^^
Wed Aug 10 – Atlanta, GA – Truist Park^
Fri Aug 12 – Nashville, TN – Nissan Stadium^
Sun Aug 14 – Detroit, MI – Comerica Park^
Wed Aug 17 – E. Rutherford, NJ – Metlife Stadium^
Fri Aug 19 – Chicago, IL – Soldier Field^
Sun Aug 21 – Toronto, ON – Rogers Centre^
Tue Aug 30 – Miami, FL – Hard Rock Stadium^
Thu Sep 01 – Charlotte, NC – Bank of America Stadium^
Sat Sep 03 – Philadelphia, PA – Citizens Bank Park^
Thu Sep 08 – Washington, DC – Nationals Park^
Sat Sep 10 – Boston, MA – Fenway Park# (on sale date TBA)
Thu Sep 15 – Orlando, FL – Camping World Stadium^
Sun Sep 18 – Arlington, TX – Globe Life Field^

=with special guests A$AP Rocky and Thundercat
~with special guests Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals and Thundercat
*with special guests HAIM and Thundercat
+with special guests Beck and Thundercat
^with special guests The Strokes and Thundercat
^^with special guests The Strokes and King Princess
#with special guests St. Vincent and Thundercat



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