I’ve spent the last week deeply immersed in the Beatles’ Rooftop Concert and man has that helped cure my winter blues. Of course, the funk I’ve been in may be lifting merely because Dry January is finally over… I guess we’ll never know what cured me. As if I wasn’t blissed out enough, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (one of our favorites down here at B&V) have dropped the first single from their upcoming album Unlimited Love. The album drops April 1st, yes, April Fools Day. The new song is called “Black Summer” and comes complete with a new video. I was particularly pumped about this upcoming album because it heralds the return of guitarist John Frusciante who has rejoined singer Anthony Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith and bassist Flea for the first time since he departed the band after the hugely successful Stadium Arcadium.
This actually marks the second time Frusciante has left the Chili Peppers and returned. He couldn’t handle the world wide attention that Blood Sugar Sex Magik generated and left only to return a couple of albums later for Californication. There was a similar arc of events after Stadium Arcadium came out. Everybody loved that album. Everyone I knew was calling me to tell me about it – from old dudes I worked with to my daughter (who was still in high school) and her friends. Literally everyone except perhaps my Sainted Mother dug that record but she’s still immersed in Roger Whitaker albums from the 70s…I can hear her now, “Bring me another sherry darling and turn this up…” I saw the Chili Peppers on that tour (although sadly I didn’t take the Rock Chick and am still hearing about it) and Frusciante played with an ecstasy usually reserved for the religious convert. I thought he was happy? Maybe after Stadium Arcadium, when they were at yet another career zenith, Frusciante – who is a true artist in every sense of that word – felt he’d done all he can do and he had enough money so he split for a curious solo career. Rumors are swirling that he lost 70% of his net worth in his recent divorce and that may be the impetus for his return. Regardless of why he came back, I’m just glad he’s returned. His Chili Peppers’ LP resume includes all of their best albums: Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication, By The Way and the aforementioned Stadium Arcadium. They have had a lot of guitarists from Hillel Slovak to Josh Klinghoffer but there’s only one man whose chemistry with the band spurs them to their utmost creative heights and that’s John Frusciante. We should cherish any music these four guys create together.
I’ll say off the bat, I dig “Black Summer.” But how does it compare with their recent first singles? Let’s watch the video and listen to the song:
If we harken back to John’s last album with the band, Stadium Arcadium, the first single was “Dani California.” That’s one of the Chili Pepper’s greatest songs of all time, in my not so humble opinion. Frusciante’s guitar is Hendrix-ian at it’s utmost. The solo’ing at the end is epic. That was a mighty first single. After John left, the first single the Chili Peppers released from their next album I’m With You was “Rain Dance Maggie.” A lot of people didn’t like the Josh Klinghoffer era of the band but I really dug I’m With You. Rick Rubin was still on as producer. They did a video for “Rain Dance Maggie” where they were playing live on a roof overlooking a beach in California. Hmm… playing on a roof… I wonder where I’ve heard of that before. I do dig “Rain Dance Maggie” and I thought it was a great first single continuing their trend of great first singles. Finally, their last LP (and Josh’s last with the band) The Getaway saw “Dark Necessities” released as the first single. I reviewed The Getaway and I stand by that review – the album disappointed me. I rarely reach for that disc. However, “Dark Necessities” is one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s got an infectious melody and groove – Flea just kills it. Kiedis lyrics are dark but yet enticing. “Dark necessities are part of my design” could be printed on my tombstone. Bad album and yet a fantastic first single!
With that history of great lead singles, I imagine there was a lot of pressure on the Chili Peppers to “bring the house” on this one. I don’t think Flea does “pressure.” I know John doesn’t do “pressure.” I like “Black Summer” but it is a curious choice of a first single. It starts with that spooky guitar riff the Peppers have been playing on their social media posts teasing the new track. There is not a guitarist on the planet besides Frusciante who can play this close to what Hendrix sounded like. You can hear the influence even on the quiet opening riffage. The song starts slow with just Frusciante’s guitar and Anthony’s vocal. The band doesn’t kick in for about a minute and a half. The guitar solo mid song is vintage Frusciante. You know it’s him on guitar and everything just seems right in the universe. You can also tell this was produed by Rick Rubin who is the fifth Pepper as far as I’m concerned. I’m extremely glad he’s back at the board for these guys. “I’ve been waiting, waiting on another black summer to end.” God haven’t we all been waiting for this “Black Summer” we find ourselves in to end? I know I have.
The song doesn’t have the hook of say, “Dark Necessities” that you’d expect in a first single. It doesn’t have a giant sing-along chorus of say, “Rain Dance Maggie” that you’d expect from a first track. It’s a little dark but isn’t everything these days? I’ve always liked the inherent darkness in the Chili Peppers music, when they touch on that vein is when they’re at their best. This is a great rock n roll tune and we don’t hear much great rock n roll played on actual instruments these days. And let me say, thank god there is no presence of keyboards on this record. I think this is going to be a great year with a new album and tour from the Chili Peppers. And let me say again, welcome home John, you’re back where you naturally belong.
Until I can hear the album and see these guys in concert – this time with the Rock Chick, I promise – I guess I’m resigned to sit and “with the birds I’ll share this lonely view…” If Frusciante can find his way back, maybe all of us can. Take care of each other. This black summer really is almost over. Cheers!