Frusciante Is Back!
Hillel Slovak, Dave Navarro, Jack Irons, Josh Klinghoffer, and others, have all left their indelible mark on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ (RHCP) history but it is widely-accepted that the band’s most legendary lineup is with Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith, Flea, and John Frusciante. Yes, almost unbelievably… Mr Frusciante is back.
And he’s back to add his special ‘magik’ to Unlimited Love (1 April 2022; Warner) - the first album RHCP have made with him since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium - which also finds Rick Rubin returning to production.
As Klinghoffer tells it – to his enormous credit without any sign of bad feeling - Frusciante got back in touch by phone and then started jamming with Flea and the band, who soon after had to tell Klinghoffer that he was no longer part of their plans. With Frusciante on board they immediately noticed “a momentous shift in chemistry,” according to Kiedis, especially when the former guitarist asked them to listen again to their first three albums, released between 1984 and 1987. This was a little difficult for some members of the band who felt like it was going backwards, but they recognised that “John wanted to reconnect with the band that he fell in love with.” Specifically that was a time that, according to Kiedis, represented “nothing other than having fun and being obnoxious, brazen, crass – all of these characteristics that we had as young 20-year-olds.”
The result is a deluge of new songs that sound both nostalgic and fresh at the same time. A case in point is the opening track and lead single, Black Summer, the chord sequence of which apparently poured out of Frusciante while lying in bed one morning. The track contains a lot of the elements that made RHCP famous: a gentle start, a catchy chorus, Flea and Chad Smith’s tight rhythm section, a great Frusciante solo and Kiedis’s unique lyrical quirks which, as one wag aptly put it, are often like a “stream of consciousness that would leave James Joyce scratching his head.” However this is no criticism in the case of RHCP; it is part of what makes them classic.
Touchingly, Frusciante can be seen playing his battered 1961 Fender Strat on the video for Black Summer, but he is also an amazing singer and it is lovely to both hear his background vocals on many tracks and listen to him take the lead on The Heavy Wing. Kiedis has said there was no place for big egos on this album and he proves that here by ‘allowing’ Frusciante to evoke some of his solo work.
The upbeat Poster Child showcases Kiedis’ unique rap style that recalls 80s LA punk, while the funky Aquatic Mouth Dance is another standout that recollects a time when Flea and Kiedis were broke, particularly when Kiedis sings: “Please tell me can you spare, A pillow for my head and hair?” Flea notes that today “we have refrigerators full of food, nice houses and we jet off to wherever the fuck we want,” but that he also recalls the time when they had no home or food, and spent their days hustling for drugs, which helped them forge “a bond that is so deep.”
The ballad-driven Not the One sounds too sugary-sweet lyrically but Veronica and Let ‘Em Cry show the band are still eager to experiment. Tangelo appropriately closes the album with a lyric that might be sentimental but seems to sum up its message: “When I'm with you, I feel like myself, No stranger the shadow of somebody else […] The dream of this love never died.”
Unlimited Love represents a return to form for a band that, despite all their trials and tribulations, have been going for nearly 40 years. It was sad that a man of great talent and integrity, Klinghoffer, had to leave for Frusciante to come back, but very pleasing to hear that within a week he had been invited to join Pearl Jam’s touring band.
In an interview with NME, Frusciante said there’s already a “loose plan” for a follow-up album that will be “quite different”. The RHCP reunion that sparked Unlimited Love may just be the gift that won’t stop giving…