By the Way – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Rhcp9Release Year: 2002

Rating: 7.5/10

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have always been notable for their blend of funk, rap, and rock, but ever since the release of their groundbreaking 1991 album, it seems they’ve been trying to get away from that sound. The change started on their 1999 effort, but it comes out in full force here. While there are some hints of their established sound, the band experiments with different styles and instruments that make for an interesting and diverse record.

When this record first came out, Anthony Kiedis was newly sober from his years of drug abuse, so quite a few songs reference this. From the opening verse of “This is the Place” you know where Kiedis is going with the song: “This is the place where all/The junkies go/Where time gets fast/But everything gets slow.” The music is low key to emphasize his dislike of drug abuse. There’s even a heartbreaking line that references the death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak and how Keidis couldn’t make the funeral: “On the day my best friend died/I could not get my copper clean.” The subject of drugs appears again on “Don’t Forget Me.” With John Frusciante’s tickling guitar playing to support him, Kiedis sings about his stint in rehab and his other drug related experiences. Not only are these songs good, but they come from a really personal place giving the listener a bit of insight to the frontman.

The Peppers change things up musically on many of the songs here. Psychedelia plays a big part on “The Zephyr Song” with bright sounding guitars and a hippie vibe that’s meant to put you in a good mood. “Midnight” is a return to the flower child feel as it has a lot of references to nature, but what’s different here is the string music that introduces and closes the track. The band goes old school on “Universally Speaking” with upbeat, poppy music and matching harmonies that go back to the days of doo-wop. “Cabron” is not only the most off-beat track on the album, but it also has a Latin influence to the music. Guitars flourish and maracas shake as Kiedis sings about wanting to get along with others. What makes the song annoying is the repetition of the word “Cabron,” which is a shame because the rest of the track isn’t bad.

Though they do experiment more on the album, there are some tracks that retain their classic sound. This is found the most on “Can’t Stop.” There’s a great build up during the beginning that leads to Frusciante’s memorable and groovy guitar riff. With seemingly random lyrics like “I’ll get you into penetration/The gender of a generation/The birth of every other nation/Worth your weight the gold of meditation,” this song will remind any listener of the band’s younger days. The title track also has their rap/funk vibe with short rap verses from the frontman. What’s interesting to note here is it references a girl named Dani, who can also be found on the single “Dani California.” Makes me wonder if there’s some connection.

While most of the album is solid, there are some tracks that are less then stellar. “I Could Die for You” is meant to be sweet and sentimental, but comes across as cliché and corny. “Tear” goes back to the doo-wop style established earlier on the album, but it plays out pretty sloppy and confusing this time around. “Warm Tape” has some interesting music seeing how the intro sounds like wailing, but the song itself is pretty boring. The closing track “Venice Queen” is surprisingly good even though it sounds like two songs spliced together. Dedicated to Kiedis’ drug rehabilitation therapist, the song begins with light, airy music that sets up this relaxing mood. Midway through the music abruptly gets faster and makes the mood more upbeat. While it does catch you off guard it still sounds really good.

Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. It may not be the Chili Pepper’s greatest effort, but they still did a great job here. While there are several nods to the sound that made them famous, the band experiments a lot with this album, making it diverse and sometimes off-beat. For the most part the changes are welcomed and shows the band didn’t always want to stick with their winning formula. Some of the songs here are more personal than before considering Kiedis’ situation at the time. Even though there are a few tracks that aren’t as strong, there are enough great ones that get you moving and remind you why this band is one of the most beloved.

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