Back to the Beginning, having taken the month of August off due to a dearth of worthy material, jumps back into the swing of things with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ tenth studio album, I’m With You. Positive reviews surround the album, but let’s take our signature trip back in time to the California-based group’s first album and see how they stack up against one another.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
At least one internet wag has described the Chili Peppers’ early sound as “sex punk/funk,” and that’s really the most accurate description that I can find. The bouncy bass-lines and funk-inspired rhythms abound, weaving and crashing and generally creating an energetic, frenetic sound that assaults your ears and leaves you almost inexplicably… happy? An odd characterization for some, maybe, but I can’t deny that I found RHCP’s early sound infectious in its energy and abandon. These guys groove on what sounds like good feeling and general merriment for about 30 minutes.
Lyrically, Anthony Kiedis spits out songs that run the gamut between silly and sillier (which might imply a lack of depth in song-writing to someone who hates fun). More rapper than singer at this point, he regales us with punky tales of Flea’s “yang,” the sexual prowess of Antoine the Swan, and exhortations to jump (because jumping is okay in a jumping kinda way). He can get serious, and does on Green Heaven, but songs like this seem to be more of the exception than the rule. He and the band as a whole sound more in their element at this point just being fun-loving punks with songs about police helicopters flying around and riding dragons into the Hollywood Hills. (Of course, l’ll admit that I could be missing the point of “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes,” and that song is actually a serious treatise against Manifest Destiny and westward expansion set to a funky groove, but… Well, watch the video.)
I’m With You
If you only listen to I’m With You and contrast it solely with The Red Hot Chili Peppers, then you’d think they are two completely different bands with the same name. Taken with the entire catalog, though, you’d probably find that this latest offering is the latest in a long transition from fun-loving punks to cynical and sometimes oddly-earnest adults. Clearly, life happened to Kiedis and Flea while they were also busy making music and jumping around.
The album’s first single to date, “The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie,” funks and bops and jiggles, but it feels more like a recollection of the way they used to do it. They imply the sexiness, it seems, rather than shout it in our faces.
Musically, the rest of the album rocks with a more straight-ahead feel than most die-hard RHCP purists will probably like. Anyone who’s listened to Californication and Stadium Arcadium knows that this isn’t much of a stretch at this point, though. The pensiveness has been creeping into the lyrics and music ever since “Under the Bridge,” and Kiedis seems to be channeling that earlier song with “Ethiopia” and “Brandon’s Death Song.” Of course, we also get glimpses of fun with “Goodbye, Hooray” and (my favorite song) “Happiness Loves Company,” but that fun is seasoned with a little bit of cynicism.
Verdict: Each album has its merits. If you want more funk and less thought, go with The Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you like straight ahead rock with a chaser of wistfulness, try I’m With You. Both albums serve as bookends for a long and fruitful career for the band, so give both a try.