In a year where Harry Styles’ “And It Was” never left the public conscious or its playlists; at a time when Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti barely strayed from the Number One album slot; in a moment where Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce never depart from the pop cultural conversation for even a minute, one musical act – an old school, early alternative rock, punk funk outfit out of Los Angeles – reigned supreme over all others in 2022: the men the socks on their cocks as recalled by Tommy Chong during September’s MTV Video Music Awards, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Definitively and absolutely Los Angelino in a fashion unseen and unheard since the moonlight drive of The Doors with an equal dose of lizard-ine danger and addictive propensities to make the late Jim Morrison proud, yet, now, more worldly and universal than their parochialism would lead one to believe, the Chili Peppers have found new relevance in 2022 – not because they did anything trend-conscious, or woke, or un-woke, or ever too TikTok worthy. Rather, the quartet’s au courant level of fresh necessity stems from the fact that vocalist/pirate Anthony Kiedis, bassist/other pirate Flea, drummer/Will Ferrell look-a-like Chad Smith and new old new old guitarist John Frusciante are, in the immortal words of David Byrne, “the same as it ever was.”
Only more so, when you consider that not only did the RHCP release their 12th album, Unlimited Love, and tops charts in 2022. Their 13th album, a double record titled Return of the Dream Canteen, is scheduled for October release while the Peps stay on the road for their current sold out tour of stadiums across the globe. Who the hell releases three full, fresh new albums in this day and age, at a time when a majority of pop’s artists take years to develop one three song EP, with one of its tracks being a remix?
We know the answer.
Nearly none of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ American alterna-rock contemporaries who came to true, commercial prominence in the late 80s-through-the-mid-90s (Mother’s Milk was 1989, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was 1991, Californication was 1999) have managed to maintain the sonic or stylistic relevance and invention of the Peps. Beck only occasionally makes mystical mirthful mixed-bag pop hop as he did at his mainstream peak. Smashing Pumpkins were whiny and terrible back in the day and worse now. Nine Inch Nails is more of a vehicle for Trent Reznor’s soundtracks than anything formidably aggressive and taut. Perry Farrell gave himself a facelift, but forgot to do the same for his Jane’s Addiction. Green Day is dumb, despite everyone calling them smart. Nobody cares about Weezer, for real, then or now.
What has made Red Hot Chili Peppers relevant and more so – in part – is that, since its collaboration with producer Rick Rubin (starting with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and up through the present), the quartet has had access to one of hip hop’s first real visionary mixologist with a dry icy mixologist’s signature. Think albums such as 1985’s Radio from LL Cool J, 1986’s double sucker punch of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, and 1988’s first Public Enemy classic It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Rubin understood/understands what it meant/means to take a lyrically scatological, speak-singing sort like Anthony Kiedis, surround his funk with a stunning blunt musicality, and fire it off at all cylinders. Think the gatling gun groove and rap attack of “Give It Away” and the stuttering, jazzy fluidity of “Californication” that is free-falling Kiedis backed into the corner of rhythm that is the thumb-bumping Flea-meets-Chad Smith groove. If that isn’t hip hop made muscular and rough, what is?
Consider too that Rubin has made punk metal safe, strong and dry for acts such as Danzig, Slayer, AC/DC and The Cult. Funnel that into the flanging, crunching wifty guitar signatures of John Frusciante. What could go wrong?
Much, if not all, of Rubin and RHCP’s hardcore rap meets metal meets free jazz meets P-funk meets Sun Ra meets New Orleans carnival meets Doors fantastic LA vibe is part of the collaboration’s two newest efforts, the full Unlimited Love album and what’s been released, so far, of Return of the Dream Canteen, meaning the single, “Tippa My Tongue”, whose music video dropped in August, right before the quartet’s sold out stadium live dates in Philadelphia and Washington DC.
A dash of blustery Chuck D and a dip of decadent Iggy Pop with a dollop of Kerouac, Kieidis takes the dynamic pump-punking groove of “Tongue” and rides its manic prose like a jazz baby of the Beat Generation.
“Well, I’m an animal/Something like a cannibal/I’m very flammable/And partially programmable”
Even Kiedis’ weird Irish pirate brogue strewn across the flanged metal of Frusicante’s on the anthemic “Black Summer” is poetry in locomotion.
Two of the most recent acknowledgements of the Red Hot Chili Peppers greatness, relevancy and originality came last week, hot upon the heels of each other. That they won the Video Music Awards – the VMAs – highest legacy honor, its Global Icon Award meant a nod of credibility for all of the art and artifice and weird totems they’ve put into nearly 40 years’ worth of its music video lexicon. That the quartet took on Washington’s Nationals Park with its undulating wave of watery light show and muscular musicality tighter and looser than ever proves that the Chili Peppers can stay equally red hot on stage as they do in their video escapades. From its back-to-back, three song, gatling gun salvo of “Black Summer,” “Californication” and “Give It Away” to lacing lacerating cuts such as “These Are the Ways” and “Right on Time” with teases of The Beatles’ “Come Together” and The Clash’s “London Calling,” the Red Hots knitted together the past and the future, their heroes and their own with love and histrionics.
No matter how good Harry Styles’ movies may be in 2022 or how many more weeks Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti nestles upon the top of the album charts in this calendar year, no one has had the sort-of 365 days that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have when you consider the weight of its music videos, live shows and lengthy, breathy albums.