The Incredible Rebirth of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: A Personal Review of Unlimited Love

“I love you the most when you’re down and out.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Veronica,
Unlimited Love

 

“Music has always carried me through times of loneliness,” said John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “So when I make music, I like to make people who listen to it feel like they have a friend who reveals something personal to them, rather than trying to be like a god up on a pedestal.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers is one of the earliest musical acts that I remember listening to as a young child, along with the likes of Bon Jovi and The Offspring.

Even today, I could vividly travel back to particular early childhood memories of hearing their songs in the car or being played out loud by my eldest sister next door, or catching their memorable music videos on MTV.

I also remember the very moment I first watched their live performance. It was from their Slane Castle concert, and the song was “Californication”. As a child, their appearances made quite an impression on me, with bassist Flea nonchalantly dressed up in a skeleton costume, and guitarist John Frusciante looking a bit like Jesus, only with silvery scars on his forearms, which I was too young to know were abscesses from a past heroin addiction that nearly killed him.

But something else happened in that moment. As I heard Flea and John spontaneously jamming in the intro of the song, it felt like an outer-body experience. It was as though a ghost, or some unfathomable wind of inspiration went inside me and never came back out.

That was the moment when I realized that there was much more to music than playing one note after another. Right there and then, I realized that music is a form of communication, of telepathy, even. With a few notes played from the heart, you could convey much deeper emotions than you ever could with blocks of words.

And so, I started picking up the guitar, hoping to experience what it feels like to be lost in the music, just as the Chili Peppers have.

My fandom for the band only grew as I got older. I often didn’t eat during recess in high school, because I was always saving up my pocket money to buy CD albums. Though at some point later in my life, I gifted a large stack of those albums to a dear friend. But my copy of “Californication” and box set of “Stadium Arcadium” still remain with me today.

One thing, however, was that I wasn’t as interested in the Chili Peppers’ contemporary work. John had left the group in 2009, and while the two albums they had subsequently recorded without him were actually pretty good in retrospect, they just didn’t have the same emotional quality in them as when John was present.

Years, and eventually a decade passed by, and I remember thinking that it would take a miracle to have new music with John back in the group. The next thing I knew, that miracle did happen, when there was a sudden uproar on the Internet in late 2019 over an announcement.

It was literally one of the happiest moments I’ve ever experienced in my life.

The announcement read:

 

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers announce that we are parting ways with our guitarist of the past ten years, Josh Klinghoffer. Josh is a beautiful musician who we respect and love. We are deeply grateful for our time with him, and the countless gifts he shared with us.

We also announce, with great excitement and full hearts, that John Frusciante is rejoining our group.”

 

The Chili Peppers’ latest album, Unlimited Love, released on April 1st, is their first work with John in 15 years. The album kicked off with the release of three singles, roughly a month apart from each other starting in early February, which I religiously listened to.

This is the album that I had eagerly waited over 2 years for since John’s return. And to put it simply, it was highly worth the wait. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole album, and it was a big foot-tapper from start to finish.

Personally, there’s a lot to mention about the album’s tracks, so here are some of its highlights.

The first single and track in the album, “Black Summer” is a warm welcome to the distinctive classic Chili Peppers sound, in its brilliant melodies, harmonies and the overall rapport between the band members. Even if you weren’t aware of John’s return, you would likely be able to recognize the essential piece of the puzzle that he contributes — he might not play the most complicated or showy parts, but they’re the right ones — they gel so well with the rest of the band and aren’t intended to steal the spotlight for themselves.

And as per the classic Chili Peppers, the lyrics don’t always make a lot of sense and can be downright nonsensical, but I know how they make me feel.

Coming from a person who has been a Chili Peppers fan nearly his whole life and has found endless solace in their music — hearing the words “waiting on another black summer to end” hits deeply, making you feel less alone in moving through life, one day at a time.

Interestingly, “Here Ever After” gives me the same vibes as when I’m listening to Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater”. Other than its similar theme about a girl gone wild, its devilish, doomy mood and fast-paced rhythm just leaves me hooked and wanting to listen to it more and more.

Of course, the Chili Peppers offer their sexy, insanely catchy funk grooves in tracks like “Aquatic Mouth Dance”, “Poster Child”, “One Way Traffic” and “Let ‘Em Cry” — believe me when I say you just can’t help but bop your head to them. Plus, the addition of wind instruments in some of these tracks just make them so much better than they would’ve been otherwise. It’s also fun to mention that “Poster Child” sounds somewhat like the Chili Peppers’ very own funk version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

I enjoy the slower pace in tracks like “Not the One” and “It’s Only Natural”. I also couldn’t help but notice the Who-Nirvana-esque approach in the heavier tracks like “The Great Apes”, “These Are The Ways”, “Whatchu Thinkin'” and “Heavy Wing”, where the songs would transition from quiet to loud and distorted, and vice versa. The Chili Peppers managed to pull that one off really well. 

“Bastards of Light” is a lot of fun to listen to especially due to the dominant use of the synthesizer. It seems that John has made the most of his decade’s experience in electronic music on this track, integrating it seamlessly with the Chili Peppers’ classic sound. 

“White Braids and Pillow Chair” is honestly one of the best love songs I’ve heard. It is inspired by an old couple that singer Anthony Kiedis saw in a diner, as he ruminated on the longevity of their relationship. The title is a direct reference to the couple: the man, quite literally, had white braids and the lady brought her own pillow to sit on. The song perfectly captures the blue, longing feeling that one gets whenever they see a happy and lasting couple, as they yearn to experience the same beauty of having a special person to share the rest of their life with. 

“Veronica” reminds me a lot about The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, in terms of the melody itself and how the mood of the song transitions from sunny to gloomy. The Chili Peppers applied this concept to an epic scale, deftly mirroring the emotions behind the beginning and end of love. 

“Tangelo” seems to me like a hearty tribute to the band’s lasting friendship, with John making his second rejoin. At my first listen, it already made me think about the song “Road Trippin'” from their “Californication” album, which they recorded during John’s first rejoin. Both “Tangelo” and “Road Trippin'” are slow acoustic songs, and both are the final tracks in their respective albums. 

So there you go, folks. That was my brief run-through of the album. As a whole, I can tell by listening to it that the Chili Peppers have arrived at a definitely wiser and mature station in their lives where they are able to be more understanding and accommodating with each other, in musical as well as personal terms. 

“Unlimited Love” doesn’t feel like a mere resumption of the Chili Peppers’ work with John, but the mark of a new dynamic. Rather than simply picking up where they left off, they were able to meet each other at where they currently were — making the most out of who they are now and what they’ve learned in the past decade.

The band themselves confirmed this, with John saying in an interview that “Sometimes in the past, like on By The Way for example, or Mother’s Milk, one person would feel stifled at the expense of another. This time it felt very much like people who care about each other and are genuinely excited for everybody else to be the best that they can be.”

Enough of me convincing you to have a listen to this amazing album. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

 

“Our only goal is to get lost in the music. We spent thousands of hours, collectively and individually, honing our craft and showing up for one another, to make the best album we could. Our antennae attuned to the divine cosmos, we were just so damn grateful for the opportunity to be in a room together, and, once again, try to get better. Days, weeks and months spent listening to each other, composing, jamming freely, and arranging the fruit of those jams with great care and purpose. The sounds, rhythms, vibrations, words and melodies had us enrapt.

We yearn to shine a light in the world, to uplift, connect, and bring people together. Each of the songs on our new album UNLIMITED LOVE, is a facet of us, reflecting our view of the universe. This is our life’s mission. We work, focus, and prepare, so that when the biggest wave comes, we are ready to ride it. The ocean has gifted us a mighty wave and this record is the ride that is the sum of our lives. Thank you for listening, we hope you enjoy it.”

– Red Hot Chili Peppers

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