Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Return of the Dream Canteen' Is a Compelling Mess

BY Alex HudsonPublished Oct 14, 2022

Red Hot Chili Peppers have taken pains to insist that Return of the Dream Canteen isn't simply the outtakes from this spring's Unlimited Love, but a separate album that's every bit as canonical as its predecessor. The same week Unlimited Love was released, recently returned guitarist John Frusciante hinted that they had saved "some of the best stuff" for the followup; when they finally announced Dream Canteen, the flowery announcement promised this second LP of 2022 was "easily as meaningful as the first," and was "made with the blood of our hearts."

They're at least partially right, since Return of the Dream Canteen contains as many essential tracks as Unlimited Love. But it's also a more scattershot, experimental album, with peculiar left turns that remove any sense of cohesion and reveal the album's genesis as an assortment of leftovers.

The first half of the 17-song 2LP is quintessential RHCP. Opening track and lead single "Tippa My Tongue" sounds a bit like a Chili Peppers song created by AI — a mish-mash of "Funky Monks" references, blues riffs, "Can't Stop"-style buildups and goofy grooves. The slinky, harmony-kissed funk of "Peace and Love" features what is surely the most quintessentially Kiedisian lyric of all time: "I'm in love with all my tribes / Hey motherfucker, can you feel my vibes?" Van Halen tribute "Eddie" begins with a guitar riff lifted straight out of "By the Way" before turning into a lovely mid-tempo rocker featuring what might be John Frusciante's showiest solo ever to appear on a Chili Peppers studio album. And the funk bass strut of "Bella" features Anthony Kiedis's best pop melodies of this era, with lyrics that satisfyingly cross off "song that name-checks Los Angeles" from everyone's RHCP bingo card.

Things get weird — and stay weird — with the eighth track, "My Cigarette," a curious electro-jazz sketch featuring drum machines and synths straight out of Frusciante's solo work. The electronic textures return for the chilly six-minute sprawl of "In the Snow," while a splishy-splashy arpeggiator augments the climactic rock crescendo of "Bag of Grins." With a progression of pillowy keyboard tones, "The Drummer" contains only minimal guitar, while the ambience-glazed "La La La La La La La La" is a far better piano ballad than Unlimited Love lowlight "Not the One." Of the final 10 songs on Dream Canteen, only the waltz-time loud-quiet-loud rockers "Copperbelly" and "Carry Me Home" register as typical RHCP songs (suggesting that outgoing guitarist Josh Klinghoffer's recent assessment, that the Chili Peppers were unwilling to deviate from their established sound, might say more about him than them).

It's a curious mess that careens from straightforward standouts to erratic left turns that don't always quite work, but represent an exciting new chapter for a band about to celebrate their 40th anniversary. At this point, it would be pretty much impossible for them to redefine how they're perceived by the general public; the whole fun of a new RHCP album is hearing the ways they grapple with their legacy and push the boundaries of their sound. In that sense, Dream Canteen offers just the right amount of old and new.

Between their last two albums (and a Japanese bonus track on each), the Chili Peppers have now released 36 songs in 2022, meaning that the reunited group still have 12 left from the reported 48 that they recorded during the sessions. Go ahead, RHCP — release the other 12. Judging by Return of the Dream Canteen, there's probably some weird and interesting stuff left over.

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