In the almost 40 years since their formation, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) have developed a unique sound that’s become recognizable around the globe. The band’s taste for catchy guitar riffs and seemingly freestyled lyrics has become their signature, drawing their fanbase together for decades every time they release a new project.
That hasn’t been without its hiccups, though.
Across the Chili Peppers’ 12 studio albums, projects like “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” “Californication,” and “Stadium Arcadium” have become staples of 90s-00s alternative rock. Other projects, like “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan” and “One Hot Minute,” seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.
“Why?” you might ask.
Because they deviated from their signature.
Nothing is more annoying than when your favorite artist decides to shake it up a little to adapt to whatever’s on the radio. Other than the black sheep that is “Stadium Arcadium,” this never worked for the Peppers.
On top of that, they’ve experienced a few membership changes. Any time a band loses a member, the replacement — while maybe just as great as the original — is never the same. This is especially the case for lead guitarist John Frusciante. He’s taken multiple hiatuses from the group, and it seems that everytime he does, new struggles arise.
Enter “Unlimited Love.” The return of the prodigal son that is Frusciante after a 16-year hiatus. The re-emergence of their classic sound. The ode to the group’s camaraderie.
All of this comes together to form a fun, lively journey into their signature, satisfying their old fans while providing a great example of their best work for new listeners.
Released a few weeks prior to the album, the opening track, “Black Summer” sets the tone. The opening guitar riff is reminiscent of Peppers classics like “Otherside” and “Californication,” which tell listeners, “Look here, this is what you’ve been looking for.” Frusciante’s work is immediately apparent with a virtuosic lead guitar, and it’s an essential layer of the track that leads into a beautiful solo.
The Peppers then transition into a driving, half-rapped, half-sung ode to a relationship with a problematic woman. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis sings, “She’s the kinda girl that’ll make you wanna go faster now / There’s a cry for help and I don’t deny.” The lyrics are paired with a driving bassline and hard rock lead guitar, coming together for a track that isn’t a standout but is nevertheless solid.
Then comes the groovy, all-over-the-place “Aquatic Mouth Dance.” This track adopts classic jazz elements and blends them with some subtle Frusciante riffs. Though the lyrics seem to come from left field, the track seems to metaphorically cover the struggles of life as a performer. It’s a masterful track, and it stood out to me as one of the best of the project.
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For the fourth track, the Peppers switch it up a little, introducing a dreamy, Beach House-esque sound with “Not the One.” The track is a confession to a lover of non-transparency, explaining that Kiedis is not who he says he is and only wants them for sex. It’s a great listen if you’re getting over a heartbreak.
Track number five, or “Poster Child,” comes in swinging with a funky bassline and 70s disco-sounding guitar. It’s a good track, but I don’t really find it to be something I would go back and listen to.
I thought the opposite of “The Great Apes.” Here the Peppers combine their sound with some 70s classic rock elements. It sounds a little like Pink Floyd with a cool RHCP twist. The verses sound like some of their classics, while the chorus is what reminds me of the “Wish You Were Here” artists. It’s a great track, and is a perfect fit for the vibe of the whole project.
And then there’s track number seven.
“It’s Only Natural” is an instant RHCP classic. It deserves a spot up there with some of their biggest hits like “Under the Bridge” and “Scar Tissue.” It describes the love story between two people of different classes; Essentially, it’s saying that love will always prevail. It’s beautifully phrased by Kiedis, and the instrumentals of the track are incredible. They put a heavy reverb on the lead guitar to give it a fading echo, and when it comes on for the solo…
Frusciante brings back the funk with “She’s a Lover,” a song with some ultra-groovy riffs throughout, playing in perfect sync with bassist Michael “Flea” Balzary. The song seems to be about an obsession with a woman. Kiedis sings, “She’s so full of learning curves / She’s a lover.” This line is a tribute to falling in love with both the physical and emotional parts of someone.
The next two tracks, “These Are the Ways” and “Whatchu Thinkin” are pretty similar. They both start off with some pretty mellow verses and lead into some pretty energetic choruses. Both songs’ lyrics are all over the place and don’t really make much sense. These two tracks, while just as catchy as the previous tracks, are pretty forgettable.
For “Bastards of Light,”, the Peppers use a little more synthesizer, pulling in artificial sounds with Frusciante’s guitar riffs. Drummer Chad Smith stands out heavily in this track, filling the spaces between notes quite well with his inventive beats.
This song is different from the rest of the tracks, but I’m here for it. While the Peppers are going back to their roots, they’re still finding little ways to add some spice.
According to Kiedis, the inspiration for the next track, “White Braids & Pillow Chair,” came from an old couple he saw in a coffee shop. It’s a ballad about growing old with someone, and loving them despite their flaws; a beautiful track, and it really does the project title justice.
The Peppers pick it back up with “One Way Traffic,” an upbeat story about Kiedis not wanting to go through the motions of life and looking for someone who agrees. Smith is the standout performer once again in this track. His talent for filling in the spaces is unmatched, and the kit really makes the song.
The next track, titled “Veronica,” is yet another analysis of love. It’s a slower song, and it’s definitely one to listen to when you’re feeling like you have no more love to give.
Track number fifteen is admittedly forgettable. Titled “Let ‘Em Cry,” it just doesn’t sound like much effort was put into it beyond yet another sick solo from Frusciante.
The band gets back on track with “The Heavy Wing.” It’s a song about how the world moves a little too fast, and we need to take time to slow down and appreciate the little pleasantries of life. Frusciante unleashes his own hard rock voice for some of the chorus, a fun break from Kiedis that adds ambiguity to the track.
The final song, “Tangelo,” is a gorgeous, stripped-down love letter to Kiedis himself. He addresses a lot of his personal strife, from suicidal thoughts (“And the smile of a knife is seldom befriending”) to drug addiction (“And the crows on my hill came in for the kill”). He tells himself that with time, his love for himself will always prevail, and that he should appreciate all the beauty that has come about in his life. This track is my personal favorite on the project.
The overarching theme of love always prevailing is a great one to see out of the latest RHCP project. It provides a powerful message that no matter how rough things get or how bland life may feel at times, we can always find love within, and, in turn, reflect that love on others.
While not all of the songs were absolute hits, “Unlimited Love” has earned a spot among the likes of “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and “Californication.”