By the Way
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ eighth studio album is the most melodic of the band’s career—one that finds the Peppers taking a full U-turn away from the funky California of Fishbone, and driving straight into the more baroque California of Brian Wilson. The success of 1999’s Californication had launched the Peppers into a new level of acclaim, complete with a massive touring cycle, and as the group began work on its follow-up, an energized John Frusciante took the steering wheel. The guitarist directed his bandmates to his rippling, sparkling pop of The Beach Boys, Queen, The Beatles, Erasure, and doo-wop. Those inspirations would find their way to 2002’s By the Way, an album that once again found the group shifting its sound: Frusciante’s vocal harmonies were pushed up, while Flea’s pyrotechnic bass-playing was dialed back, so as to let his bandmates shine. And the group worked overtime on the album’s arrangements, which are at their most ornate. The result? Another hit album, one that would birth numerous smash songs, and propel the Peppers into the 21st century. The Peppers’ management team had pushed the group to release the title track as By the Way’s lead-off single—a gamble that paid off handsomely, as the track’s chaotic verses and windswept chorus proved irresistible to radio. But its follow-up, “The Zephyr Song,” more accurately represents the psychedelic lilt of By the Way, thanks to the track’s Pet Sounds-esque harmonies and a sunny vocal hook that could have been ripped from the pages of Summer of Love faves like the Fifth Dimension: “Fly away on my zephyr/I feel it more than ever/And in this perfect weather/We’ll find a place together.” Those warm harmonies and paisley-coated textures also saturate tracks like “Universally Speaking” and “Midnight,” which bridge the gap between Woodstock ’69 and Lollapalooza ’92. And the album’s tender closing track, “Venice Queen,” is a loving ode to Kiedis’ addiction counselor Gloria Scott, one that takes on the form of a multi-part rock epic. The funk-rock that shot the Peppers to fame still lives, as evidenced on the syncopated hit single “Can’t Stop,” as well as the jangly “Minor Thing.” But on By the Way, the Peppers (mostly) let the melodies do the rocking. The group would get back to its funkier hump-de-bump on later albums, but the ambitious— and incredibly fruitful—songcraft on By the Way proves the Chili Peppers don’t always have to move booties in order to move hearts.