Home Read Classic Album Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers | By the Way

Classic Album Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers | By the Way

The funketeers' evolution into middle-aged soul men is nearly complete on this LP.

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This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


When they were young men, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, like most young men, were obsessed with pleasures of the flesh: Sex, drugs, sex, dancing, sex, sports and, oh yeah, sex. As they have grown older, however, like most older men, they have become more concerned with matters of a more spiritual nature: Love, honour, friendship, salvation, regret and redemption.

The band’s slow but steady transition from tattooed love-boy funketeers into middle-aged soul men — a process begun in 1991 on Blood Sugar Sex Magik’s Under the Bridge and Breaking the Girl — is nearly complete on By the Way, the eighth and most serious album of their 20-year career. The tube-sock funk-metal of their first decade is all but banished from these 16 cuts, which aim to sock it to your head and heartstrings instead of your feet and fanny. Flea’s bass lines have gone from a full boil to a quiet percolation; Chad Smith’s beats are mixed further in the background; and Anthony Keidis’s lyrics to tracks like Universally Speaking, Don’t Forget Me and I Could Die For You are less about giving it away than they are about realizing what’s important to hold onto.

The band’s real secret weapon these days, though, is prodigal guitarist John Frusciante, who takes the musical reins on By the Way, reportedly contributing not only his increasingly idiosyncratic and experimental fretwork but also all the keyboards and backup vocals. It’s his exploding abilities that take the Chili Peppers to new places — like the flamenco folk of Cabron and the punchy ska of On Mercury. They haven’t totally abandoned their past — the nostalgic neck-snapping workout of the title cut and Throw Away Your Television, along with the slow-rolling grooves of Can’t Stop, should satisfy the faithful for now. At any rate, they’ll have to do. Because at this point, it seems obvious the Red Hot Chili Peppers have more important matters on their minds than getting you to shake your butt.