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Red Hot Chili Peppers coast on the underwhelming 'Unlimited Love'

Red Hot Chili Peppers - 'Unlimited Love'

For a band that hasn’t actually been all that good for a decade, Red Hot Chili Peppers sure had a lot of hype coming into their 12th studio album, Endless Love. It’s not hard to see why: John Frusciante, the band’s best-loved guitarist, returned to the fold for his third tenure in the band. Whatever they were going to drop, it was going to be met with palpable anticipation.

Like most of their albums, Unlimited Love is stylistically diverse, sonically sparkling, and way too long. These are all Chili Peppers hallmarks, and if nothing else, Unlimited Love really does feel like it’s about getting the band back together. That includes producer Rick Rubin, who helped guide the band through all of their Frusciante-era albums from Blood Sugar Sex Magik onwards.

Unfortunately, most of Unlimited Love seems to find the Chili Peppers cruising on autopilot for well over an hour. Unsure about whether to tap into the low key melodicism of By the Way or the dry horny funk of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the band decided to split the difference by honing in on a blander middle ground between the two. Tracks like ‘Here Ever After’ and ‘Not the One’ find the band in edgeless alternative rock territory, a trend that continues through the entirety of the album.

When they actually loosen up and lean into the sillier side of their sound, like on the nonsensical jazz-funk hybrid ‘Aquatic Mouth Dance’ and the lascivious ‘She’s a Lover’, the Chili Peppers gravitate closer to the sound that most fans fell in love with. But the album rarely crackles with excitement for feels quite as vibrant as the punk-funk party animals’ work of the past.

Anthony Kiedis is the only person who seems completely comfortable in his usual role, unfurling completely inane lyrics in ‘The Great Apes’, ‘One Way Traffic’, and ‘Whatchu Thinking’. You know it’s been too long since a Chili Peppers album was released when you start to enjoy Kiedis’ signature gross-out sexual reference and completely absurd imagery. What is a “spirographic anagram”? Does Kiedis think Virginia Woolf is some kind of paragon for sexual prowess? Is it stupid to dissect a lyricist as notorious as Kiedis?

Despite Frusciante’s presence, the dominant soundscape seems to more closely resemble Josh Klinghoffer-era albums like I’m With You and The Getaway. The Chili Peppers’ compositions don’t like and die with whoever their guitar player happens to be at the moment: Kiedis, Flea, and Chad Smith have evolved the Chili Peppers sound into something a bit softer and less frantic as they’ve aged into their late 50s and early 60s.

So Unlimited Love winds up sounding like a “mature” version of the Chili Peppers. Truly, the band have never sounded older, with mid-speed tempos and gentle guitar tones being the dominant sounds on the album. Every once in a while, the frenetic bass work of Flea and the hard-hitting style of Smith poke through, but those moments are relatively few and far between.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are now old men trying to play a young man’s game. In that sense, Unlimited Love is perfect for the band at this very moment in time: it’s not embarrassing, it’s got some decent hooks, and it shows that they can conceivably keep going as long as they want. But the album also makes it clear that the free-wheeling lust-filled maniacs that made songs like ‘Hump de Bump’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’ have retired that side of their artistry.

What’s left is a perfectly enjoyable and surprisingly mellow alt-rock record from a group whose legacy is already secured. Few listeners are going to find anything worth obsessing over on Unlimited Love, but as a testament to Frusciante’s status as the one and only guitar player of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the album succeeds at fulfilling its relatively modest goals.