“I’m at the county fair, haystack ride, I pull your hair…” – Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Tippa My Tongue”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have released their second double LP – yes their second double LP – of 2022. That’s a whopping 34 tunes – 36 if you count the Japanese bonus tracks – in one year. That’s 1972 level output, when artists put out two or three albums in a calendar year. Or maybe we should be comparing this to latter day Prince who was always extraordinarily prolific but especially toward the end. I had read before Unlimited Love came out that the Peppers had something like 50 tunes finished…which may mean a third LP is waiting in the wings? The auspicious return of guitarist John Frusciante really sparked the creative energy with these guys. I’m always a huge believer in the chemistry of specific individuals creating music together but man, there is A LOT to digest. But I can also say there is A LOT to like here.
I really liked Unlimited Love and having gone back and re-listened to it this week I stand by those feelings. I will admit I’m surprised they decided to release that album first. It was a little restrained and you had to hunt for Frusciante’s very distinctive guitar solos. This new album, Return Of The Dream Canteen, is to my ears more upbeat and bright. This is absolutely not an album of “leftovers.” It stands on it’s own artistic merits. I have to admit I like this album much better than Unlimited Love and I’m on record as really digging that album. This album does remind me more of Stadium Arcadium, but that may just come from the sprawling nature of this album. While Frusciante’s wonderful guitar is all over this album – and it’s glorious to behold – Flea is also all over this record as well. Or, as I described it on the first record of the year, this album is also very Flea forward… he is the greatest bass player of his generation. Drummer Chad Smith is also quietly becoming one of my favorite drummers.
I have heard many people complain – or in my case chuckle – about Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics. I’m beginning to think he just tries to find cool syllables that go well together than actual words that make sense. I mean, the guy has never been accused of being the second Bob Dylan… he’s no John Prine or Bruce Springsteen. Kiedis is more like David Lee Roth in that it’s all about vibe and feeling. All I can tell you is that I’ve been singing the words I quoted above for weeks…”Haystack ride, I pull your hair…” The words just put a smile on my face. I will say, while the Chili Peppers have always been the “Good Time Boys” – they’re only a few years older than me and they remind me of cool upper class guys from my high school – there is a bit of nostalgia that has crept in, much like when I get together with my old drinking buddies from college. Kiedis references Van Halen, Hall and Oates, the Clash, Frank Sinatra and Cheech & Chong. Even these goofballs get caught looking backwards.
As I said, I probably like this album better of the two released this year. Frusciante in an interview about Unlimited Love said they’d left the best stuff for the second album and I’d say he was right. I think if they’d released this album first they might have seen a little more momentum – this stuff feels more summery and Unlimited Love seemed more autumnal. There’s a classic trope in rock and roll that in every good double album there lurks a classic single album. I was never sure that was really true until I heard the outtakes from Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. Yes, they were great but releasing only a single album at that time was the right move, Wildflowers as it was originally released is a stone cold classic. And just like Unlimited Love, I think Dream Canteen would have benefited from a few cuts/edits. I think you could amend the classic trope in this instance to say there is probably one classic double album lurking in these two double albums. I’m waiting to see people start doing their edited, combined playlists for these two records to refine them into one great album. “Tippa My Tongue” followed by “Black Summer” and such? Maybe I’ll take a stab at that like I did Springsteen’s Human Touch and Lucky Town, distilling those down to just one album. Personally, I like having all of this music, one big smorgasbord of funky tunes.
This album is, if anything, funky. It’s like the Peppers have rediscovered their funk-metal roots. There’s a bit more pop here than in the old days. There’s not as much menace in their tunes this time around. Perhaps they’re just happier or maybe they don’t rock as hard without their demons. I always thought Robin Williams was funnier when he was on coke, which is probably a terrible admission on my part. I do appreciate their willingness to experiment with different sounds. This album is certainly less… shall we say… monochromatic than their classic Stadium Arcadium. There were rumors Frusciante only returned because he’d gone through a messy divorce and needed money. Even if that’s true, he brought his A game to this music. I feared he’d lost his ability to write rock songs after Unlimited Love. He allays all fears on this record.
The album starts with the first single “Tippa My Tongue” which I already reviewed, but man it’s an earworm extraordinaire. It’s in my head most mornings when I wake up. “Peace and Love” is another great pop tune with a heavenly bass line. It’s laid back, midtempo, joyfulness makes me wonder if the Chili Peppers are actually… happy? “Copperbelly” is another great pop tune towards the end. It’s more of a ballad really. While there are some lighter, poppier moments, these guys still can rock with the best of them. “Reach Out” starts mellow but then Frusciante carpet bombs us with heavy riffs. It reminds me of “Ready Made.” “Fake as F@ck” is another great rock tune here. It also starts slow and then explodes. The tune just shimmies and shakes and has a really trippy ending. “Bag of Grins” is a throbbing tune with great tribal drumming from Chad.
I love the Van Halen tribute “Eddie.” Kiedis crams more VH references into that song than I can even think of. You can’t sing about the greatest guitarist ever without a tasty guitar solo and Frusicante blows me away on this track. It’s not an attempt to imitate Eddie, just a tribute about him. “Bella” is a funky track where Kiedis is trying to convince a young woman to move out of L.A., which is counter to everything he’s ever written about California. “The Drummer” is another cool throbbing track that sounds like a loose electric wire is shocking me…very jittery. I love that song with it’s soaring chorus. “Carry Me Home” has Frusciante’s most blistering solo of the album. “Afterlife” is pure funk and it’s impossible to stay seated while it’s playing. “Handful” actually conjures the aforementioned Clash’s song “Ghetto Defendant” but maybe that’s just me.
I could literally go on and on about the tracks on this record. There are a lot of great ones. If I was going to edit this thing, there are a few tracks that I didn’t connect with as much and might consider cutting. I didn’t like “My Cigarette” the first time I heard it but it has grown on me. I do like the sax solo on the tune. “La La La La La La” is a piano driven ballad that misses the mark, badly. The final track, “In The Snow” is just ok. It sounds like they employed a drum machine and Kiedis does some spoken word pieces that are… ridiculous. But those are the only misses to me on an album that stretches out over 17 tracks.
If Unlimited Love didn’t scratch your Peppers itch, Dream Canteen will certainly do the trick. This is truly the strongest album they’ve put out since Stadium Arcadium. It’s a real triumph. Would these two double albums been better as perhaps just one, more focused double album? Probably. But then it wouldn’t be the Chili Peppers if they’d shown some restraint. And believe me, restraint is overrated. Turn this one up loud with a tumbler of rye and get ready for the funky rock n roll, baby.