The return of the fabled guitarist John Frusciante in 2019 was nothing short of modern-day rock ‘n’ roll folklore. Despite a somewhat tempestuous past with the band, having quit twice before, he truly is the heart of the band and the pioneer of their distinct, signature sound and stratospheric success. With the prodigal son returning home once more, to say fans had high expectations for the Peppers’ twelfth studio album would be an understatement. This task, which would be daunting for some, was brazenly faced down by the Chili Peppers. And they certainly delivered.
Whilst hunting for elusive grooves has defined their musical career, the grooves seemed to have captured them in Unlimited Love. Raw riffs compete with an unrelenting bassline; Kiedis’ ruminative rap-rock verses embellish striking beats. The euphoric record harnesses funk-rock delicately, with all the hallmarks of artistic greatness.
It is a tale of comfort, confidence and, in classic Peppers style, chaos – albeit a more controlled chaos than we may be used to.
Effortlessly and incessantly funky, Unlimited Love is a testament to the band’s forty-year career, drawing upon influences ranging from Freaky Styley to Stadium Arcadium. The opening track ‘Black Summer,’ whilst emphasising the devastation of the Australian wildfires, shares a similar pattern of clumsy yet important social messages to Blood Sugar Sex Magik’s ‘The Power of Equality’. Elsewhere, ‘Watchu’ Thinkin’’ honours ‘Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky’ from Mother’s Milk, and the Frusciante-led choruses of ‘The Heavy Wing’ are a ghost of By the Way‘s ‘Dosed’.
Though drenched in familiarity and hosting a considerably consistent sound compared to the cavorting nature of previous records, Unlimited Love is fresh and vivacious. It is a tale of comfort, confidence and, in classic Peppers style, chaos – albeit a more controlled chaos than we may be used to.
‘The Great Apes’ encapsulates some of this controlled chaos. The gentle bassline complements the nonsensical warbles about “pixelated panthers” and snakes getting high, before rising into a runaway guitar solo, as free as the “Great Apes” that vocalist Anthony Kiedis croons about. ‘Aquatic Mouthdance’ is a musical concoction only these daring showmen could dream up – horns, bass, guitar, and drums all battle for attention in between staccato verses. Likewise, ‘Poster Child’ honours the heroes of rockstar mythology in verbose verses that are so ludicrous they strike brilliance.
In an attempt to reflect upon their love for one another, the cosmos, and the divine power of music, the Chili Peppers have truly invoked a sensation of Unlimited Love.
In between the funky pandemonium, a real sanctuary can be found. Though unable to completely shelter from the groove of the record, there are moments in which the groove soothes rather than strikes. ‘White Braids and Pillow Chair’ is a Californian breeze, with a gentle surf-rock riff, as Kiedis instinctively pays tribute to his beloved state. The raw and honest reflection, that is so often concealed in the Chili Peppers records, is present in the tear-jerking lyrics of ‘Not the One’ and ‘Tangelo’. These gentle songs prove once again that Kiedis, despite aspects of his reputation, is capable of expressing some of life’s most intangible emotions.
Frusciante, who is tone-perfect in his wailing Hendrixian riffs, and Flea, who seems to have returned to his slap-happy days, have their musical relationship on display throughout. What they lack in harmony, they more than make up for in heart. Riffs ride over rippling basslines, allowing both artists to flex their musical prowess individually whilst creating perfectly complementary songs as one. Drummer Chad Smith also champions a more commanding role throughout. His skill is most notable in “Here Ever After’ and ‘These are the Ways,’ songs which are both dominated by pulverising drums. Together, these four men, whose work has endured over decades, have created an artistically heightened record.
Funky yet forgiving. Imperfect and ingenious. In an attempt to reflect upon their love for one another, the cosmos, and the divine power of music, the Chili Peppers have truly invoked a sensation of Unlimited Love.
We Recommend: ‘Here Ever After’