John Frusciante’s second—and presumably final—departure from the Red Hot Chili Peppers has prompted his former bandmates to speak of their new album, I’m with You, as a rebirth of sorts, affirming how reinvigorated they feel after their lengthy break from the studio since recording 2006’s Stadium Arcadium. And having ferried their funk-rock anthems through countless albums to varying degrees of success across the last quarter century, a new direction feels somewhat overdue. Session musician Josh Klinghoffer makes an earnest attempt at filling Frusciante’s shoes, but the Chili Peppers’ 10th album only confirms that they’re a far weaker band without their virtuoso guitarist and most interesting songwriter.
Though it’s a shame that the California veterans waited this long to tweak their sound, you have to applaud Anthony Kiedis and company for finally venturing outside of their comfort zone. Certain sections of I’m with You are awash with sounds and ideas you would never have expected from the Chili Peppers: “Monarchy of Roses” finds Kiedis wading through a lo-fi garage-rock overture, “Did I Let You Know” boasts a roaring assault of brass instruments, and the matinee rap of “Even You, Brutus?” is set to a sprightly piano melody that, refreshingly, feels unlike anything the band’s done before.
Of course, the staples that have come to define the band’s sound since Blood Sugar Sex Magik are also here in spades, and in that sense, I’m with You is an emblematic Chili Peppers album. The band plays it safe on tracks like “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” “Factory of Faith,” and “Goodbye Hooray,” with Kiedis hollering arbitrary gibberish atop lively basslines and guitar parts polished to the nth degree. “Ethiopia” is very much cut from the same cloth, a maddeningly catchy anthem reminiscent of the songs on Californication, bouncing along with such infectious mettle that it’s impossible to doubt their tried-and-tested formula.
I’m with You is a case of an old dog learning a few new tricks. And though Kiedis is still chasing his tail scribing utterly nonsensical lyrics, the album does indeed showcase the band in superb technical form. Flea is as arresting as ever, his work on the bass putting the funk in the Chili Peppers’ funk-rock, while Chad Smith steals scenes from behind the drum kit with arguably his best performances to date. The arrangements have a tendency to rely on Flea’s basslines to compensate for Frusciante’s absence, but there’s still enough zip and zeal in the stronger tracks to affirm the Chili Peppers’ relevance in the modern musical climate.