Review Summary: Red Hot Chili Peppers continue embracing their poppy side and step into the 2000's with another work of excellence.
Red Hot Chili Peppers had made it big in the 90’s. Very big. Not only did they release their two best albums in that decade, one at the beginning and one at the end, with a lot of trouble in between, but the second of those releases introduced them to every single music fan in the world. Californication
was home to a big comeback and three really big singles that resulted in the Red Hot Chili Peppers becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. Their latest album sold a stunning amount of 15 million copies, in the end, and because this was largely due to the accessible material, more so than the also well-talked about reunion of the band with guitarist John Frusciante, it was not difficult to foresee the band going down the easy path: the path of popularity. The path that would certainly destroy everything they once stood for.
It would seem this was exactly as things would progress. By The Way
, released in 2002, featured even more radio-friendly, melodic material, and not a single song was truly based on the funk rock the band once created. Red Hot Chili Peppers had shed its old skin. And yet, their eighth album did not at all destroy or harm the band’s legacy, or even disconnect them from their loyal fans they had helped to build up with prime funk rock releases such as Mother’s Milk
and Blood Sugar Sex Magik
. Very little groups have achieved pulling off this kind of direction change with such positive consequences on all sides, and so, it raises an immediate question: what was this band’s secret?
The secret is, simply, that this album was
no sell-out. On very few occasions, a change to an accessible sound had been so sincere. Red Hot Chili Peppers did not create By The Way
because they got an even greater taste of stardom with Californication
; Red Hot Chili Peppers had already changed before that record. As many will know, this is almost entirely due to John Frusciante, who experienced a far more positive outlook on life and music after coping with his severe drug addiction. At first, this band was just crazy. In the late 90’s, this band became optimistic.
What their eighth record simply marks is taking the sound of their seventh one step further. Frusciante acted as creative leader, writing most melodies on the guitar, but also even some of the bass work. He has stated writing the album was one of the happiest times of his life, and that is clearly heard; By The Way
is a warm, welcoming album full of sweet, catchy melodies and a knack for sensitivity and emotion. Even Kiedis, known for his lyrics of lust, focuses more on this.
There are only two that would possibly contradict this statement: the opening title track and Can’t Stop
. Both mix former and new aspects of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ sound successfully: they have rapping, aggressive Flea basslines, but also switch to melodic guitar and vocals; all in a fashion that flows quite well. The only moment where Flea takes lead as far as guitar is concerned is Throw Away Your Television
, which he brilliantly support with a strong, rumbling bass line. Luckily, the as always talented bassist gets back his spot on By The Way
, as opposed of his driven-out-of-the-mix position on Californication
. Frusciante is very much taking lead, but Flea can be clearly heard at almost all times.
Melodic balladry is still what dominates the album, of course, and in some songs, the band has crafted some of their best moments yet. Credit goes, as said, mostly to Frusciante, but Kiedis deserves compliments for his vocal work. He already developed his clean vocals on the band's previous album, but on By The Way
, he can really
carry a song. Nevertheless, he is frequently backed up by both Flea and Frusciante, who, a fact that would have been unbelievable in the 90’s, churn out some very good ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’, fitting with the material. Some of the best moments in the main album style have all been released in the form of singles: Universally Speaking
and The Zephyr Song
. Universally Speaking
is the most straightforward of this, and with lyrics such as ‘Nothing better, the feeling is so fine/Simply put, I saw your love stream flow’
, it perfectly sums up how accessible the sound of the band has become. Showing by the quality material put out on By The Way
, that is not at all a bad thing.
The single best moment remains Dosed
, which is best described in a single word: beautiful. With Frusciante’s downright gorgeous and very emotional playing and the unforgettable ‘Way upon the mountain where she died/ All I ever wanted was your life/Deep inside the canyon I can't hide/All I ever wanted was your life’
chorus, so perfect because it harmonizes Kiedis’ voice with Frusciante’s in an indescribably godly manner. If you fail to hear the pure emotion in Frusciante’s voice which he gained with his new outlook on life, you fail to comprehend what drove this band to create an album like this in the first place.
The album is quite long, and towards the end, it allows itself to experiment a tad more. Though these are not the finest cuts on By The Way
, some of the later tracks are quite interesting. Cabron
is nothing like the band has ever done, played on an acoustic guitar in a strong Latin tone. Tear
features almost no guitar parts, instead opting for dominant keyboard playing, and On Mercury
is based around eclectic trumpet playing. Even for their perhaps unnecessary present, the tracks once again show a diversity in the band’s sound, one perhaps needed next to all the melodic material.
That, of course, is in the end what By the Way
is all about. Some have blatantly called the album a repetition of Californication
, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Red Hot Chili Peppers very much expanded on their late-90’s sound, and while embracing pop sensibilities, they managed to create another fine entry in their discography, that certainly ranks among their best albums. At the start of the past decade, the Peppers remained on a good run.
By The Way’s Red Hot Chili Peppers were:
- Anthony Kiedis ~ Lead Vocals
- Michael Peter ‘Flea’ Balzary ~ Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
- John Anthony Frusciante ~ Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Synthesizer
- Chad Gaylord Smith ~ Drums
By The Way
The Zephyr Song
TO BE CONTINUED…