Let me begin with an offering to Chilis' front man Anthony Keidis, a verse in his intensely imitable style that I made up in less than five minutes, which might well be longer than he spent on the lyrics for this entire double album :
Dey sit in a mansion and mix-up dey’s ruckus
Their ruse is to choose a cool hot-shot ‘prod-u-sir’,
Cuz once they was pukka but now they just suckas,
Once Lollapalooza now lollipop losers.
But enough of this merriment. I’m here to ruminate on this damned thing, not to parody it. Q magazine says that Stadium Arcadium is the “No1 must-have album for 2006" and Rolling Stone has hailed it as the year’s “most anticipated album".
Me, I’m mystified.
It seemed to me that the Chilis totally lost the plot several years ago, but does it matter what I think? This double album, their ninth overall, shifted 442000 units in its first week of release in the US, where it debuted at No1, as it also did in the UK and Japan. Clearly, if so many people are snapping it up all over the world, it must be a very wonderful artefact indeed.
So why do I not like it?
Well, given that I thought their massive international mega-hit By The Way was possibly the sloppiest, laziest knock-off dollop of self-impersonation I’d ever heard from a band that was once vital, how could I possibly love an album where virtually every track sounds that way?
Let me get down to specifics. Instrumentally, this album is performed very well indeed. John Frusciante remains a quite astonishing guitar player, able to switch styles at the drop of a hat, and it's largely his efforts that make this sorry mess listenable on any level at all. Bassist Flea runs Frusciante a close second in the musical virtuosity stakes, always bubbling away, driving the music along and inserting occasional little licks that 99% of all known bassists wouldn’t dream of even attempting. Drummer Chad Smith also delivers the goods - rattling, thwacking and thumping in all the right places.
Unfortunately, as The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and countless others have proved over the years, instrumental virtuosity does not necessarily a great album make - especially if you’re a rock band. (Cue The Ramones singing Blitzkreig Bop).
Some of us rock fans are a curiously pernickity bunch. Sure, we want the music to be great but we also want to hear songs. A good song is a wonderful little thing, a happy marriage of words and melody that sounds good when one person sings it on their own in the bath. It sounds even better when great musicians, producers and engineers contribute their talents to enhance it, but the basic little magical nugget, the song, is just words and melody.
And that’s where Stadium Arcadium is frighteningly lacking. Every set of mind-numbingly vacant lyrics (I’ll spare you the details) emerging from frontman Anthony Keidis’ lips seems to be wafted on the same tune or, let’s be generous, one of maybe three tunes.
So, despite the valiant efforts of the rest of the band, what the 28 tracks of Stadium Arcadium actually amounts to is three songs played in several different ways. And that’s really not enough, is it?