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For Red Hot Chili Peppers, Love, Life and Friendship Are Still in Unlimited Supply

The album marks the band’s first release with guitarist John Frusciante since 2006

red hot chili peppers unlimited love review
Red Hot Chili Peppers, photo by Gus Van San
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    When times are rough, it’s not often that we look to the music of Red Hot Chili Peppers for solace — perhaps when we do, it’s for the cathartic bliss of “Under the Bridge,” the meditative beauty of “Otherside,” or even the infectious energy of “Can’t Stop.” But overall, Red Hot Chili Peppers rarely shoot for the heart, opting instead for the funk-punk explosion that tends to scratch a different kind of itch.

    With their twelfth studio album, Unlimited Love (out Friday, April 1st), the Chili Peppers are keen on changing that idea. Upon announcing an expansive world tour (with a really impressive list of openers) in support of Unlimited Love, they also confirmed the return of longtime guitarist John Frusciante, who hadn’t recorded with the band since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium.

    Not only that, Unlimited Love finds the California quartet reunited with Rick Rubin, who produced every album in the band’s discography since 1989 (save for 2016’s Danger Mouse-helmed The Gateway). With their classic lineup and collaborator in tow, Unlimited Love promises to be a rebirth of Red Hot Chili Peppers — a return to form, if you will.

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    Of course, a band can’t really return to form if they never really left: though Frusciante’s replacement Josh Klingoffer added an element of restraint and stability to Flea, Anthony Kiedis, and Chad Smith’s raucous sonic adventures throughout the last two albums, that magic recipe is pretty much always the same. Whereas The Getaway dabbled in the Danger Mouse universe of tight-but-fuzzy, kaleidoscopic rock, Unlimited Love feels much closer to 2011’s I’m With You and the five-time Grammy-winning Stadium Arcadium.

    In a statement released by the band, the Chili Peppers say that on Unlimited Love, they “yearn to shine a light in the world, to uplift, connect, and bring people together.” That sentiment is easy to find on a lot of this album, especially considering the fact that Flea, Chad Smith, and John Frusciante are fluent in each other’s respective languages, constantly playing off each other’s impulses and finding moments of brilliance both together and individually. Meanwhile, the album represents a conscious decision from the band to display a more mature, unity-oriented sound.

    Unlimited Love — which, in and of itself, evokes a feeling of endless freedom and care — follows through on the band’s promise of connection by opening with the powerful anthem, “Black Summer.” The song seems to speak directly to the global struggles we’ve experienced in the last few years: in the chorus, Kiedis confesses, “It’s been a long time since I made a new friend/ waiting on another black summer to end,” likening the pandemic’s toll on our collective psyche to a summer without sun.

    The song carefully reintroduces Frusciante’s signature sound and builds to an explosive chorus, but not without some thoughtful introspection from Kiedis. It’s a perfect way to start a new Red Hot Chili Peppers record — a grand return to the stadium rock that has taken them to the highest peaks, but not without losing the fun and enthusiasm that has characterized their entire discography.

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    Though the other songs on Unlimited Love are not quite as poignant as “Black Summer,” “Whatchu Thinkin’” and “Let ‘Em Cry” do possess the kind of yearning that swims through the album. Then there’s “Aquatic Mouth Dance,” which features some typical ripping from Flea and nostalgic memories from Anthony Kiedis, and eventually turns into a full New Orleans-style jam, with dizzying horns that straddle the line between dissonance and cohesion.

    Elsewhere, the biggest reminder of Frusciante’s legacy within the band comes in his trademark harmonies, evocative guitar tones, and blistering solos. Frusciante experimented heavily with post-rock, acid house, and EDM styles throughout his second hiatus from the band, and if anything, his return adds to this idea of collective catharsis that the band is in search of.

    There are a few sonic experiments and surprising moments of clarity from Red Hot Chili Peppers on Unlimited Love, too. “These Are The Ways” is a genuinely riveting progressive rock song, complete with post-chorus breakdowns and an absolutely remarkable performance from Chad Smith. On “These Are The Ways,” the band sounds completely renewed and revitalized, and the urgency is palpable.

    “Bastards of Light” opens with fascinating New Wave-esque keyboard stabs, all until those funky synths give way to an acoustic guitar-rooted, country-tinged chorus. It’s cool to hear Red Hot Chili Peppers shift styles so dramatically within a song, making for a courageous moment; an example of a jarring transition that pays off.

    And then, there’s Anthony Kiedis: what more is there to say about one of rock’s most cryptic and irreverent singers? Kiedis finds more room to examine the past and long for a love that is free and, of course, unlimited. There are lines on this album that feel both acutely clever and completely improvised, all belonging in Kiedis’ absurd world of Los Angeles.

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    It’s fascinating to hear a band nearly forty years into their career try to reach their audience in a different way; they achieve this connection most fully on “Black Summer,” which, appropriately, gave the band their 14th No. 1 single on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. Throughout Unlimited Love, you can still hear their enthusiasm breathing life into these tracks: when Flea, Frusciante, and Smith really lock in on a groove, they’re indestructible.

    Essential Tracks: “Black Summer,” “These Are The Ways,” “Bastards of Light”

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