Red Hot Chili Peppers
In the world of popular music, the Red Hot Chili Peppers remain a conundrum, an enigma, a goofy group of screwballs whose success is as sporadic as a bungee cord in a stiff wind. The only thing you can really count on is that if guitarist John Frusciante is part of the Peppers’ lineup, as he has been this round since 1999's Californication, there’s a good chance of a heady artistic upswing in need of appreciation. Without missing a step, the band’s newest album in four years, the two-CD Stadium Arcadium, plays it relatively safe with an effective punk n’ funk formula firing away on all cylinders whilst hitting pay dirt with fans and critics alike. Now that the CD has gone on to become their first Number One, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are being hailed as one of the best alternative bands of the last 20 years — a title, typically reserved for mainstreaming conformists like U2 and REM, that has alluded the gangly Los Angeles band of misfits since they came into being.
Everything about Stadium Arcadium — from its title to the individual disc names (Jupiter and Mars as opposed to the more practical 1 and 2) to the smoldering pile of 28 songs that fill the damn thing up — suggests that the Peppers have finally decided to abandon their on-again/off-again cult status and turn pro. Indeed, here's a hybrid of styles and moods with enough shaking interplay and spinning melodies to make it a fun and frothy ride. The hooky opener “Dani California” — publicly cited as a direct lift of “Mary Jane's Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’1993 hit that borrows more than a couple of chord progressions from the Jayhawks’ “Waiting For The Sun” — sets the tone and is opulently followed up by the wickedly wobbliness of “Snow” along with the title track, eerily reminiscent of the band’s most identifiable hit from 15 years ago, “Under The Bridge.” The self-important yearning behind brazen, beautifully calculated material like “Slow Cheetah, ” “Desecration Smile,” “Hard To Concentrate,” “She Looks To Me, “ “If,” and the effulgent “Animal Bar,” does little to temper the fires or dull the senses. Instead, it keeps the record from floating off the map into a void of meaningless affectation.
All heavy sundering and sparse pretentiousness aside, Stadium Arcadium is popping fresh with heaps of loose-fitting, familiar-sounding funksters like “Hum De Bump,” ‘Warlocks” (featuring the late Billy Preston on clavinet), “Tell Me Baby.” “Storm In A Tea Cup” and “Turn It Again.” Still, other tidbits like “Especially In Michigan,” featuring a guitar solo from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of The Mars Volta, along with “C'mon Girl,” “Wet Sand,” and “Death Of A Martian,” all function more or less as slurry-eyed showcases for Frusciante’s kinetic guitar work and alchemic chemistry with bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith. Meanwhile, vocalist Anthony Kiedis' skittish vocals and quirky lyrics snake around the instrumentation with subtle indifference and powerful results. Leave it to the grand and tasty milkshake called the Red Hot Chili Peppers, aka Hollywood Knuckleheads, with the precarious and lofty wherewithal to make something as vibrant and self-indulgent as Stadium Arcadium in the all-encompassing, lack-of-attention-span digital age. We can only hope others will follow in their stead.
~ Shawn Perry