|Red Hot Chili Peppers:
By the Way Label: Warner Bros / Wea
We've been watching these guys grow up for about two decades now, and while Anthony Kiedis, Flea and the rest of the Peppers have certainly hit a few dozen speed bumps along the way, through it all they've consistently rewarded our loyalty with one fantastic collection of funk songs after another. Sure, as they've matured their music has gradually lost some of its edge, and this California quartet has even wandered into the pop realm with some of their most recent work. But from one album to the next, you could always count on the Peppers to deliver a healthy dose of Flea's signature slap bass, impressive guitar performances from either John Frusciante, Dave Navarro or Hillel Slovak and, of course, those playful vocals from Kiedis, the lead Chili Pepper who these days sounds about as comfortable singing a wonderfully serene chorus as he does rapping his way through a blistering verse of yet another impressive funk-rocker. With
By the Way, the Peppers' eighth full-length release, the formula remains unchanged and the finished product is, once again, remarkable.
As if to show non-believers that their recent mellow tendencies haven't charred their punk roots, the Peppers open this album with the perfectly constructed title track, melding some simplistic guitar plucking and soulful vocals with the rap-rock sound that originally made them famous. The end result is an immensely popular hit single that confidently demonstrates just how fluidly these guys can slide from one end of the musical spectrum to the other. In fact, when Kiedis, who's now pushing 40, kicks his lyrics into high gear, he sounds about as uninhibited as he did on 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, flexing the rap-rock muscles that undoubtedly influenced newbies like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. The lighter side of RHCP is proudly displayed on "Universally Speaking," "The Zephyr Song" (featuring some great background vocals from Frusciante), "I Could Die for You" and, perhaps most notably, "Dosed," a beautifully composed tune that harbors the most memorable chorus on the disc. With its blend of stutter-step rap vocals and another smooth chorus, "Can't Stop" is unquestionably one of the highlights of this 16-song set while Flea drives "Throw Away Your Television" with a vintage RHCP bass line that'll have you bobbing your head in mere seconds. Showing off their eclectic nature, Kiedis and Company even add a little Latin flavor with "Cabron" before giving way to the somber masterpiece, "Tear."
For years the Peppers have been slowly figuring out when to crank it up and when to tone it down, an awareness that has sparked their transformation from longhaired funksters to supremely talented musicians. With 1999's Californication and now By the Way, they're proving that the lessons they learned through all the drugs, death and turmoil have just made the music that much stronger. Kiedis and Flea may soon be 40-somethings but in the studio they're just as amazing as they were some 20 years ago.