Red Hot Chili Peppers Rekindle Their Fire on 'Unlimited Love'
Published Mar 31, 2022Red Hot Chili Peppers have had many different lineups over the years, but they only really sound like themselves when on-again-off-again guitarist John Frusciante is in the fold. That impression is reinforced by Unlimited Love — a sprawling, exciting album full of playful chemistry between four musicians who, yet again, bring out the best in one another.
The album has all the usual hallmarks of the Chili Peppers: goofy funk-rap gibberish ("Poster Child"), sunburnt grunge ballads ("Black Summer"), harmony-drenched name-dropping of California ("White Braids & Pillow Chair"), and cloud-scraping fretboard heroics on guitar ("The Great Apes") and bass ("One Way Traffic"). Longtime super-producer Rick Rubin is back behind the boards after sitting an album out, and he helps the group lean into their classic, summery sound.
As nice as it is to hear RHCP back in their wheelhouse, they sound best when they pick up the energy and cut loose a little. "Here Ever After" is propelled by Chad Smith's pounding toms, Flea's dirty bass thrumming and Frusciante's ominous tones. The song has a gleefully silly pseudo-rap delivery that only Anthony Kiedis could pull off; same goes for the "Parents Just Don't Understand" flow of "One Way Traffic." Instant standout "Aquatic Mouth Dance" sounds like a fairly typical Chili Peppers funk jam (think "Charlie") until it spins off into an approximation of caterwauling New Orleans jazz in the giddy final passage. The climactic "These Are the Ways" begins slow but veers into bluesy hard rock; that explosive distortion returns on "The Heavy Wing" in a towering chorus sung entirely by Frusciante. The rave tones of "Bastards of Light" draw on the solo electronic music Frusciante has been making in recent years, surpassing 2016's Danger Mouse-produced The Getaway as RHCP's most adventurous dalliance with synths.
Frusciante will likely get much of the credit for the band's reinvigorated sound. He's the thinking person's Chili Pepper, the one apologists will point to as the spiritual, sensitive soul to balance out the rest of band's horned-up goofiness. While there's no question that his sense of pop songcraft is perhaps the band's greatest strength, his bandmates turn in similarly strong performances here: see the way Flea walks his way through playful riffs on "Watchu Thinkin'" or how Smith propels the sighing "White Braids & Pillow Chair" to an unexpected country finale with his chug-a-lug beat. Frusciante has spoken about approaching Unlimited Love without a sense of ego, and he often takes a backseat to let his bandmates rise to the occasion; he's more restrained with his vocal harmonies than he has been on his last couple albums with the band.
The veteran Red Hots are showing some signs of decline — specifically the 59-year-old Kiedis, who has always had more charisma than technical singing ability, and here relies so heavily on pitch correction that it drains some of the personality from his voice. Stripped-down moments, like the dreary momentum-killer "Not the One" or the pop-funk comedown "It's Only Natural," plainly expose the warbling, robotic processing on Kiedis's vocal tracks.
But largely, the most surprising thing is how quickly the Chili Peppers have fallen back into lockstep. The band's albums with outgoing guitarist Josh Klinghoffer weren't bad, exactly — The Getaway in particular holds up quite nicely — but, when listening to Unlimited Love, there's a strong sense of everything falling into place and order being restored. (Warner)