I'm with You
“This is a new band,” said Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith in 2011. “We have the same name, but it’s a new band.” On the group’s 10th album, I’m With You, the veteran funk-rockers emerged from a brief respite with something of a creative rebirth. After a chart-dominating run of heavily melodic hits—1999’s Californication, 2002’s By the Way, and 2006’s Stadium Arcadium—guitarist John Frusciante quit the band for a second time. The Peppers recruited young multi-instrumentalist Josh Klinghoffer, a guitarist prone to wild fits of feedback and swirls of unique textures. Bassist Flea, meanwhile, returned with a new set of musical skills he’d picked up in the intervening years, during which time he learned the piano, studied music theory at the University of Southern California, and played with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The resulting album finds the bandmates opening up their tried-and-true stomp style, and embracing disco, post-punk, Afrobeat, and electronic music. Same Peppers, new heat. All 14 I’m With You tracks feature layers of syncopation provided by storied session percussionist Lenny Castro and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco, resulting in the most rhythmically sophisticated album of the group’s career. “Ethiopia” has a tricky 7/4 meter, while “Did I Let You Know” lets the Peppers slide into their version of a slinky Afrobeat groove. And the single “Monarchy of Roses”—which at one point had been titled “Disco Sabbath”—has a tom-tom-heavy, noise-metal verse that explodes into a chorus full of Chic-style, four-on-the-floor abandon. But this isn’t the kind of nonstop party album the band might have recorded a few decades earlier. As work on I’m With You began, the Peppers received news that a longtime friend, LA punk promoter Brendan Mullen, had passed away. “Brendan’s Death Song” is a celebratory tribute to his life—and to life itself. It’s just one of a handful of songs in which Kiedis muses on life, death, and relationships. Towards the end of the album, piano-heavy songs like “Happiness Loves Company,” “Police Station,” and “Even You Brutus?” bring a Billy Joel vibe, with Kiedis singing about loneliness, old friends, and past loves. Nearly 30 years into the group’s career, I’m With You finds the Red Hot Chili Peppers finding new skills and sounds on an album that’s equal parts rumination and reverie.