6 years by today’s standards is a hell of a long time to wait for an album, but for many Red Hot Chili Peppers fans this wait was worth it. Three years had gone by since the release of the Chilis’ last LP The Getaway when the band dropped an early Christmas present at the end of 2019: Josh Klinghoffer, who had replaced the beloved John Frusciante a decade prior was out, and Frusciante was back in. Fans were ecstatic at the news to say the least, but aside from an appearance at film producer Andrew Burkle’s memorial any hopes of seeing the reunited lineup live had to be put on the back burner because 2020. Not to be deterred, the Chilis continued on their quest of starting new, first by selling off all their old songs then coming up with new ones for a fanbase clamouring for fresh material.
Thus we have Unlimited Love, the Chili Peppers’ 12th LP and a corresponding world tour about to kick off in June. Question is, 16 years after Stadium Arcadium, is RHCP with the Fru back in worth the hype? The opening track “Black Summer” is a mix of instant nostalgia and contemporary freshness that takes some time to compute; by the time the chorus kicks in it’s beaming through the speakers like the old days. These vibes continue over the next couple tracks: The pounding rap/sing split of “Here Ever After” throws back to the By The Way era and the slappy Flea funk of “Aquatic Mouth Piece” to any number of album cuts from Arcadium. “Not the One” breaks the mood and offers a chilled-out reprieve, followed up by the groover “Poster Child” that reads out like a Kiedis’d-out rendition of “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. “The Great Apes” mixes things up again and gives Frusciante a chance to rip while “It’s Only Natural” highlights his background harmonies; a contribution of his that sits second fiddle to his guitar work but has nevertheless been equally key to the Chilis’ sound over the years.
With tracks like “She’s A Lover”, the band starts getting comfortable and settles into boilerplate Chili Peppers material. Thankfully the rocking “These Are The Ways” livens things up so the album’s second half doesn’t completely fall victim to complacency; Likewise “Whatchu Thinkin’” is brought to life by Frusciante’s tasty melodic variations on standard Chili funk. “Bastards of Light” throws another curveball with its use of synths and acoustics, in contrast “White Braids & Pillow Chair” is more run-of-the-mill material. The early-00’s flavour of “One Way Traffic” isn’t particularly significant either though it does carry a little more spice than “White Braids”; afterwards we get one of those chill/trippy/subtly depressing numbers with “Veronica” that only RHCP can authentically deliver. “Let ‘Em Cry” offers another piece of funk filler, leading to the man of the hour John Frusciante jolting the record back to life one more time on “The Heavy Wing”. The record could have ended there, but the Chilis opt to go out on relaxo-mode with the acoustic number “Tangelo”, an effective closer nonetheless.
Unlimited Love is a record that is for sure to reignite a whole lot of memories for Millennials and Gen-X’ers that grew up on the original RHCP lineup, and create a whole lot more for any new fans that are just getting into the band now. It’s great all around to have John Frusciante back doing his thing again; he made this record what it is beyond a shadow of a doubt and sounds fresh as ever all these years later. With all respect to what Klinghoffer contributed on I’m With You and The Getaway, if it wasn’t clear that there’s no other guitarist who can fill the shoes of Frusciante in RHCP or replicate what he does effectively, it is now beyond a shadow of a doubt. As far as the band and the record as a whole goes, there’s plenty of quintessential Chili moments peppered (for lack of a better word) throughout the album with a seasoning of newer, darker textures mixed in to keep it interesting. Some tracks fall too far back onto formula, though to an extent it’s necessary to remind anyone who may have forgot what the Chilis in their greatest form are all about. Overall, worth the listen, and certainly worth the wait.