The world has been seriously missing the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The band’s last LP was the underwhelming I’m With You, released in 2011. The main problem with that record was that Kiedis and co. didn’t re-invent themselves convincingly enough. We had no issue with the music evolving; the crime was that the way they chose to evolve seemed to rob the record of its key identities that were so integral to the band. We couldn’t tell Chad Smith was behind those drums, and we could barely recognise Flea’s distinctive playing style. It wasn’t what they played, it was how they played it.
Despite this, the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have stayed in our consciousness. Having a back catalogue of unforgettable, classic albums helps with this. But we’ve had a few reminders recently that the old personalities are still alive and kicking. Nobody else could play the Star Spangled Banner like this:
It’s the yearning for more of these characters that make the promise of new material so exciting. Because I’m with You was so bland, it feels like we haven’t had a true Chili Peppers album since Stadium Arcadium…and that was 10 years ago.
So, with all this anticipation and pre-conception, what to make of Dark Necessities?
It’s certainly a huge step forward from the entirety of I’m with You. There’s a bassline here that played in a way that is quintessentially Flea, and Kiedis is using the type of vocal expression he’s so well known for. We definitely know which band is playing here.
What seems to emerge is a funk rock song which has been tied down and subdued by a piano and soaring, atmospheric chorus. It’s an interesting combination, almost like the band is fighting itself. In the verses the bass pops and slaps, threatening to break into some Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era hedonism. On the other hand there’s a piano part here that seems to inject a dose of introspection, which is the total opposite of what funk is all about. Later, this is amplified when the chorus hits, with backing vocals providing extra expression as we slide into a dreamy landscape. As soon as the verse hits again, we’re brought back to earth via the bass. From here the process is repeated.
It makes for a new texture the band has never tried before. This is essentially what happens when someone takes the RHCP that made Can’t Stop and teaches them the meaning of ‘adult contemporary.’ The same band we once knew is recognisable, but they’ve managed to squeeze their sound into something that rolls rather than grooves, that slides rather than bounces.
So, we can’t criticise this track for not sounding like something the Chili Peppers made, but we can debate whether this new sound, that favours introspection over extroversion for the first time, has been done well.
It seems to me that we’ll only really have the verdict on that with time. For now, I’m just going to sit and wait for the album.