Red Hot Chili Peppers: I'm With You-Review

Review: “I’m With You”- Red Hot Chili Peppers by Ian Beavers

My very first exposure to the Red Hot Chili Peppers did not come in the form of a beloved song.  In fact, it didn’t come in the form of the band at all.  It came to me as I sat on the floor in my grandparent’s living room in Arizona watching the Back to the Future trilogy, in which the now-legendary bassist Flea plays a goon named Needles.  Fast forward to a sunny September morning in 2011, where I emerge from my room clad only in boxers proclaiming to a bleary-eyed and overall grouchy roommate: “Happy New Chili Peppers Album Day!”

I’ve grown to love the Chili Peppers over the years, and they are without a doubt one of my go-to bands to listen to.  When “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” (the first single of the new album) was released a few weeks ago, I mused to my friends at how incredible it was that the band managed to keep the same sound everyone knows and loves while staying incredibly relevant and at times, groundbreaking.  “I’m With You” is the epitome of that very idea... You get to hear the bands background in underground funk/rap/rock fusion, their psychedelic surf-guitar solos, and their love of all music that, now more than ever, stretches across almost every genre I can think of.

photo credit Ellen Von Unwerth

With a crash, a driving beat, and grungy guitars, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back, and they haven’t forgotten where they came from. The start is dirty and grungy, but it quickly gives way to a disco-funk baseline and Anthony Kiedis’ signature velvety vocals. It has a more driving kind of sound than other songs in recent Chili Peppers history, but in no way is it a bad thing. The song is energizing in a way that excites it’s listeners for the rest of the album, which is a great quality to have in an opening track.

Following a line of the band’s signature funk bass, another ghost of Chili Peppers past rears its head right off the bat in “Factory of Faith:” Slow, and almost poetic rock-rap.  The band was among the first in that particular musical revolution during their slow rise in the mid-80’s, and they haven’t lost their touch. And in a stark contrast Kiedis spends most of the track weaving in and out of admitting poor decisions and proclaiming faith in a more permanent love, demonstrating how far the band has come on a maturity level.  Now that I write about it it seems like an odd topic for the Pepper’s to tackle, but its pulled off in a way that can’t really be described in any other way than “Chili Pepper-y.”

When the band first began rehearsing for “I’m With You” after a nearly two-year hiatus, they lost longtime friend Brendan Mullen to a stroke.  As the story goes, they didn’t say a single word to each other when they received the news of Brendan’s death, but instead started to play their instruments in an impromptu jam session, which became the basis for the Album’s third track: “Brendan’s Death Song.” Mournful acoustic guitars start off the song, joined by equally sad bass lines and drums.  Soon their is a dark and confusing bridge that gives way to an ultimately celebratory sound that resonates with sadness, love, and hope.

“We’re rolling everybody. It starts with Bass,” can be heard as the fourth track, “Ethiopia,” begins. Flea delivers on this promise with one of the band’s most diverse bass lines that will also undoubtedly become one of their most recognizable.  The song is ultimately one that revolves around it’s beat, punctuated with Kiedis’ frequent “E-I-O-I-E-O-A” and a rhythmic tone emanating from Josh Klinghoffer’s guitar. The track is strange in that, while having a very smooth and constant sound, its also very diverse and driving. It lends itself to a road-trip playlist with ease.

“Annie Wants a Baby” has a darker sound than the tracks leading up to it had, but it has a strange resonance with Chili Pepper fans that may not be immediately recognizable.  Psychedelic guitars and intense lyrics float around a sad little story about a young woman trying to make her way in the world, with very few moments of resolution that last for a short time at the end of either chorus.  The first true return to Chili Pepper-style storytelling that the album sees, the track is underscored by an intense bass-line to give it a real feel towards being haunted by decisions that need to be made by someone who isn’t really ready to make them.

photo credit Clara Balzary

Being the first single from the album, and having a release date that preceded the album itself by about a month, “The Adventure’s of Rain Dance Maggie” is the most quintessential “Red Hot Chili Peppers” song on the album.  Led in by an undeniably toe-tapping bass-line, the song speaks once again to the bands growth. With slightly grungy images of junkies and drugs, the feel of the song is lifted and even cleansed by the far more upbeat feel of the chorus.  Its almost a relief to reach it throughout the song, with a similar musicality of a previous Chili Peppers single, “Snow (Hey-Oh).”  This song reaches a far better sound than its cousin, though, and hits the mark cleanly, something that couldn’t necessarily be said for “Snow.” How appropriate that the snow should give way to the rain! (See what I did there?)

With a snazzy drum beat the Peppers return to a more upbeat style of song in “Did I Let You Know.”  The music resonates with the feeling of travel and adventure, and in a slight departure for the band, features some pretty slick trumpet solos that end up acting as the biggest example of the band’s growth in new musical styles. Well,  new for them at least.

“Goodbye Hooray” is a rather traditional song for the group... Fans will find familiarity in the track with its high-energy beats, shredding guitars, and catchy baseline,  and with the exception of an impressive Bass solo from Flea, the song doesn’t have much else to offer... Which, to me at least, makes it the first real “let-down” of the album. On the one hand its nice to find something so familiar on the album, but after the laundry list of well-executed tracks that led up to it... it falls just a little short. Not bad, but not good either.

In another show of musical growth, “Happiness Loves Company” is the first of three tracks on the album that feature heavy use of a piano, which isn’t really something one could find as a prevalent instrument on any other Chili Peppers album. It ends up working as a very nice harmony with Kiedis’ voice, and adds some great contrast between it’s own smooth riffs and Kiedis’ choppy (in a good way!) delivery of lyrics.

photo credit Ellen Von Unwerth

Almost acting more as a poetry slam than a song, the Chili Peppers rely on all their instruments to craft a beautiful background beat for Kiedis’ prophecies and proclamations in “Even You Brutus?” The track itself is really interesting due largely to its simple overall “feel,” but as soon as listeners start dissecting all the different parts that make it all up all the layers become almost overwhelming... In a good way!

My favorite Chili Peppers songs are usually their ballads. The chill surf guitar riffs weaving around Anthony Kiedi’s voice always seem to relax and dare I say, even center me. “Meet Me At the Corner” is no exception whatsoever. The track even has a neat little breakdown during the bridge that reminds me of the Carpenters or even some of the White Stripes more chill songs.  Its a slightly sad ballad, but it revolves heavily around the idea of redemption, and listeners can even get the feeling of achieving some kind of redemption themselves, which to me is the mark of a truly great song... Something that can truly make you feel one way or another, even though you aren’t really involved at all.