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Album Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Return Of The Dream Canteen.

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

Not since the release of their four ground-breaking albums in the 80s have the Los Angeles force majeure collectively known as Red Hot Chili Peppers been in such a productive vein of song writing.

In fact, 2022 will go down in the annals as the year that the quartet of Flea, Kiedis, Smith and Frusciante scaled peaks of creativity higher than those previously scaled.

Forget not that this is the conflagrant quadrumvirate that unleashed upon us the utterly sublime ‘Mother’s Milk’ back in ’89. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in recollecting the thrill of the 12” picture disc of ‘Higher Ground’ hitting the turntable for the first time! Today on the cusp of the Chilis’ 40th anniversary the band is as lean, mean and dynamic as at any stage of their outrageous career.

From the sessions that bore April’s monstrous ‘Unlimited Love’ – debuting at number one in an incredible 16 countries, including the US and UK, upon release – so the wondrously entitled ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ strides forth.

It seems no coincidence that this stratospheric peak in terms of output and creativity aligns with the return of the firebrand six-stringer John Frusciante, some ten years after he had departed the ranks of the Chili Peppers. Whatever way you look at it the release of two top drawer double-albums is no mean feat; this is a band conquering higher and higher summits.

Flea propels a frenetically tumbling bassline to herald album opener ‘Tippa My Tongue.’ The ‘Funky Monks’ are in fine, fine form from the very off with effervescent frontman Anthony Kiedis slick vocals complementing Frusciante’s phasered guitaring succinctly.

Drummer Chad Smith summed it up perfectly “There’s a lot of different things in there. To me it’s got a bunch of hooks in it. It’s got P-Funk in it. I hear George (Clinton in it), and some Hendrixy kind of licks. It’s a nice gumbo. I thought that would be a good first cone to come out from that (album). It sounds like us, but new. I think that’s cool.”

It’s Smith’s peacock strutting percussive skills that bring in the chilled out West Coast vibes of ‘Peace and Love’. A demonstrative four minutes of the Chilis’ creative breadth and depth. Middle Western genius indeed.

Precise, delicate butterfly notes, a welcome throwback to ‘Californification’, dance from Frusciante’s fretboard and alternate with a collective furious chaotic maelstrom within red-hot ‘Reach Out’. A high bar has been set, one which continues to rise as we descend further down the rabbit hole into the wonderland in which the Chilis dwell.

Released as a promotional single in September and inspired by the October 2020 passing of virtuoso guitarist Edward Lodewijk Van Halen ‘Eddie’ soars high upon the thermals above the Mojave Desert. Commenting in an Instagram post a few weeks ago Kiedis noted “Sometimes we don’t realize how deeply affected and connected we are to artists until the day they die.

Eddie Van Halen was a one of a kind. The day after his death Flea came into rehearsal with an emotional bassline. John, Chad and I started playing along and soon with all our hearts, a song in his honour effortlessly unfolded.” A tsunami of heartfelt emotions.

‘Fake As Fu@k’ is extracted from the classic Red Hot Chilli Peppers vein, a rich high-grade funky sinuous ore. Kiedis sings “Tuesday morning comes along, I read the news, it’s all gone wrong. The facts of life have left too soon, the serving up doom and gloom. Never gonna leave my room.” A large dose of stark reality upon a framework of Frusciante’s Hendrix-esque wizardry.

Through a smoky nebula strikes a jazz-funky ‘Roulette’ following the crisp citrusy funk of ‘Bella.’ A slick down pacing as the album nears its epicentre. The haze is maintained as the band toke on the experimental pysch of ‘My Cigarette.’

The mood is uplifted with harnessed controlled tectonic force with the emergence of ‘Afterlife.’ Curious subtle countrifications entwine about 70s vibrances with consummate ease. ‘Shoot Me A Smile’ see the 60s take forefront with The Byrds and Kinks resplendent with Kiedis stating “Last name’s Hot and my first name’s Red.” We’re in complete agreement.

By the time the quirks of recently released single ‘The Drummer’ hit the agenda we pay witness to a band in full fluidity. Every component on its A-game and the total even greater than the sum of the individual. ‘Bag Of Grins’ explodes, unexpectedly, in a kaleidoscopic myriad of riffs and punky attitude before lapsing back into a conflicting refrigerated coolness.

‘La La La La La La La La’ (all eight of them for completeness) brings a melancholic side of the Chilis to stage front with Kiedis reflectively emoting atop an atmospheric piano with shimmering percussion that engages with a mournful sax in a engaging slow dance.

Returning to the scene of previous successes ‘Copperbelly’ weaves in a 60s psychedelic underpinning whilst a bluesy Frusciante break hooks ‘Carry Me Home.’ The latter a personal high point amongst a raft of lofty pinnacles. ‘In The Snow’ harks to an early 80s electro-era replete with a rapping Kiedis mid-song. Diversification yet strangely familiar; the essence of the past with a firm eye upon the coming times. A subjective element that encapsulates.

‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’, produced by Rick Rubin, is magnificent in its mellifluous meanderings; one moment riff-driven the next possessing the chilled-out surf-drenched beach ambience. It’s, naturally, funky but maturely inquisitive; pushing boundaries yet remaining a short strike from home. Assured to conclude the Chilis have kept their promise of not playing it safe with this release. Dividends have been reaped from the seeds sown from those productive sessions. A fine point in history.

Return of the Dream Canteen’ Out Now at https://rhcp.lnk.to/DreamCanteen

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