Gone are Frusciante’s signature solos and background vocals, as well as his contributions to the songwriting process.
Despite his absence, I’m With You is arguably the band’s finest work in quite a while. Frusciante being gone seems to have allowed the band to emphasize their other attributes more clearly, most specifically the bass work of Flea and Chad Smith’s drums. They also branch out in directions previously unvisited on their albums, giving things a freshness that might not have been entirely expected.
Album opener Monarchy of Roses kicks things off energetically, its up-tempo disco beat driven by Flea’s bouncy bass line. Vocalist Anthony Kiedis, always the focal point of RHCP songs because of his polarizing vocal style, sings warped vocals not unlike those he employs on Warped, the first track off One Hot Minute.
Factory of Faith is led by another juicy Flea bass line and Kiedis’ typically motor-mouthed rap-ish vocals. He may be nearing fifty years old, but he can still deliver some lightning-fast lyrics, even if they don’t really make much sense. Melodically, the song is one of the album’s highlights, and could end up among the RHCP’s biggest radio hits if it is chosen to be a single.
Brendan’s Death Song, a tribute to Brendan Mallen, the former owner of a club in LA that famously gave the Peppers their first real shot back in 1983, is one of the album’s strongest moments, and is one of the deepest songs the Peppers have made in some time. It’s tender and touching, and the steady, somber guitars and drums help make the song sound like a funeral march.
Casual RHCP fans can probably expect to hear Ethiopia on the radio at some point, as its chorus is vintage Peppers. After an off-time, abrupt verse structure, a sweeping chorus kicks in that will stick with you long after hearing it.
Musically, I’m With You pays special attention to the work of Smith and Flea, as mentioned earlier. New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer’s presence is rarely on sole display (as Frusciante’s commonly was) on many tracks, but when it is (such as on Look Around, another album highlight) it’s easy to tell that he’s in for the long haul. Look Around, in particular, calls to mind the band’s work in the late 1990s, when they were arguably at their best. Kiedis offers some lighting-quick lyrics while some gorgeous atmospheric guitars and vocals give the song an ethereal, dreamlike feeling. It sounds primed for the live show.
Did I Let You Know, with its world beat grooves, is one of the album’s standout tracks, mostly due to how comfortable the band sounds switching things up a bit. This is a song that is pretty far out of the Peppers’ typical repertoire, and it sounds great. The same can be said for Happiness Loves Company, Police Station and Even You Brutus?, which combine to form the best 3-song stretch on the album. Piano-driven, lushly melodic tunes, the tracks are the best examples of the band’s ability to reach far out of their comfort zone and still create some solid, memorable songs that can match up well with many of their career highlights.
Dance, Dance, Dance closes out the album with a life-affirming, inspirational feel, a testament to what the band has accomplished with this album and where they are in their career.
With I’m With You, the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved that they are still a very relevant band in the mainstream rock world. Whereas 2006’s Stadium Arcadium was a bit overstuffed and simplistic, this new album finds them reaching a new level of accomplishment and allowed them to really forge their own path.
Pick up the album if you’ve ever liked a song by the band, and experience their growth for yourself.