The Red Hot Chili Peppers were going on 18 years of recording by 2002. The band's history shows a slew of lineup changes, but two members remained the same the entire time, singer Anthony Kiedis and Michael Balzary, most commonly known as Flea. The second guitarist of the band, John Frusciante, brought them to the next level after original guitarist Hillel Slovak died on a heroin overdose. Later, after the breakout Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Frusciante left the band, struggling as a heroin addict. The band replaced him with Dave Navarro, but the music produced with him never took off in any way that their previous efforts did. Frusciante returned to the band after coming clean, just escaping death multiple times. The return of Frusciante saw a revival in the Chili Pepper's music, with the release as their often claimed best album of the "rock" Chili Peppers, Californication. The next album, By the Way, marked the first album where Frusciante was not new to the band.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are:
Anthony Kiedis- Vocals
John Frusciante- Guitar, Backing Vocals
Michael "Flea" Balzary- Bass, Trumpet
Chad Smith- Drums
By the Way is a showing of the band finally gaining a comfort zone with each other, syncing as a band instead of the album being the Flea or the Frusciante show. Since the advent of Californication, Kiedis found a new role in his singing, actually needing to possess the ability to sing a tune and carry it. His singing drastically improves on this album, although often assisted by Frusciante's backing vocals. While a few songs return back to the roots of the Chili Pepper days, the band's sound evolves to a light, tranquil rock band. Some songs feel more like a Beach Boys song than a Chili Peppers song, with Frusciante and Flea oohing and ahhing behind Kiedis' vocals. Musically, Frusciante often plays simple guitar riffs while Flea plays a bassline that soothes perfectly. He doesn't play as aggressively as before, but he doesn't sit on the root of the note and creates interesting intervals that add to the sound of the song. Occasionally, the album picks up steam and that is where Flea makes a large appearance, showcasing a funky bassline and building a song around that. Chad Smith stands out occasionally, but he sits in his role.
As a whole, By the Way is the most experimental album the Chili Peppers have ever produced. The songs range from light pop-rock to Spanish acoustic dances to straight up funk rock. Fender Rhodes esque keyboard melodies appear in some songs, as well as the attempt to make an epic, emotional song with a string section to accompany Kiedis' voice. However, with this being 16 tracks, the experimentation does not make it to every track. Most songs take a feel akin to Scar Tissue or Californication from the previous album. The experimentation makes the best songs on the album for the most part, as the tranquil songs get old after a while. Kiedis' lyrics get a makeover on the album, as he shows a maturity, not making references to famous albums during his raps and not really making much of a point. He even stays away from the kinky, sexy lyrics of his 80s-early 90s style. He matures as a man, singing more about society in general. However, some songs remain introspective, reflecting back on his earlier days.
As far as tranquility goes, the best one of these songs is The Zephyr Song. The Zephyr Song begins with an electronic drum beat and a simple guitar riff. Chad Smith takes over for the electronic beat as Flea enters, descending throughout the riff. Kiedis enters, rapping the verse as the guitar playing gets more complicated. Flea keeps his bassline varied, always standing out as a great bass player even when he isn't the focus. Kiedis' rapping grooves with the feel the rest of the band lays down. Frusciante enters halfway through the verse, oohing the chord tones above Kiedis. A typical way for the Chili Peppers to make a chorus is to enter an obviously major chord progression as Kiedis sings the chorus rather than rapping. The Zephyr Song does this exactly. While this creates an extremely uplifting chorus, it gets old and somewhat cheesy. Following the shorter second chorus, Frusciante busts out a beautiful solo, showcasing his incredible newfound tone. Just like the typical solo from him, it is incredibly simple yet perfectly fitting with the feel the song. The chorus reprises then closes out on an incredibly major chord, leaving a warm feeling in your heart... I think.
Conversely, Throw Away Your Television is a much more aggressive song, opening up with a frantic bassline from Flea. His tone is significantly meatier than usual. A drum beat enters that accompanies Flea's line. Kiedis sings well on this song, taking a simple melody and sticking to that. As would go with any song that opens with a Flea bassline, the song revolves around it, having all the other band members build on top of his ideas. Frusciante plays an insanely simple guitar part. Frusciante hints at a climax, but the song reverts back to the verse riff. The chorus doesn't change feel really, but Flea's bassline goes higher and Frusciante puts effects on his guitar and slides around the fretboard. Frusciante plays differently on the second verse, acting more as a lead guitarist rather than an accompanist to Flea. Taking this gained momentum, he takes a solo filled with guitar effects after the second chorus. The solo sounds extremely futuristic and electronic, but it is still most obviously a guitar. The song closes out on multiple tracks of Frusciante's guitar along with Kiedis repeatedly saying "It's a repeat."
By the Way goes down as one of the Chili Peppers' best albums, ranking with Californication and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. A noticeable minority of people feel this is their best album to date. The album certainly explores a range of sounds with the strings infested Midnight, the Spanish influenced Cabron, and the return of a funkier feel with Minor Thing. Despite this being a recording from a band 16 years in progress, the age does not show and the Chili Peppers continue to create their own style of music.
By the Way
The Zephyr Song
Throw Away Your Television