Don’t Call it a Comeback. Seriously, Don’t.

Published on July 4th, 2011

Alex looks at the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ upcoming, allegedly-a-comeback, record.

An odd thing seems to happen every four or five years, and this is a trend that has been going on since about 1995. Every few years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers release something that is allegedly a comeback album, despite the fact that these really aren’t comeback albums at all. The Chili Peppers’ new record, I’m With You, will be out in August, and the humourously-titled single ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ is scheduled for a July 18th release. I, for one, am excited. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a pretty great rock band, and their music is at least kind of unique. Flea rocks the basslines, drummer Chad Smith, who is contrary to popular belief not Will Ferrell, drums well enough, and Anthony Kiedis is an at least moderately unique front man. Rick Rubin’s glorious beard was back in studio as well, twiddling and twirling those knobs and things, so the extremely clean sound that has been present since Californication will still be around. Guitarist and insanely amazing backup vocalist John Frusciante, sadly, will not be back.

To call Frusciante one of my favourite rock musicians would be an understatement. I don’t know a damn thing about how to play guitar, nor do I know what an incredibly talented guitarist’s work would sound like. But to paraphrase Harriet M. Welsch’s love of tomato sandwiches, I know what I like, and I like Frusciante; critics and people that actually know music seem to agree. But I’m not in it for the guitar playing. Since Californication, Frusciante has been providing gorgeous backup vocals in a way that is, uh, gorgeous. That is the only word I can think of, really. Listen to The Zephyr Song. Or Snow (Hey Oh). Or Can’t Stop. Or the second half of Torture Me. Or any post-1999 Red Hot Chili Peppers song. Frusciante has been everywhere in the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the past decade, and everything he sings in his inhumanly high register sounds like the musical equivalent of Grace Kelly’s facial structure. Even with his departure, however, I’m interested in a new record by the Chili Peppers. What I’m not really interested in is how that new record is inevitably going to be talked about.

Pictured: John Frusciante backup vocals.

If you were to only listen to what rock magazines told you, the Chili Peppers are the musical equivalent of Rocky Balboa, continually coming back even though everybody just expects Dolph Lundgren to beat the shit out of them. But, like Rocky, nothing really holds the Chili Peppers back: not heroin, not lobotomies, not even Dave Navarro’s nipple piercings can stop these guys. This time, the Chili Peppers have lost Frusciante, but I like to think they’ll be alright; last time this happened, maybe they just chose a shitty replacement. Josh Klinghoffer, Frusciante’s new replacement, has collaborated with both the guitarist and the Chili Peppers and, according to the band at least, tends to be able to sing okay. It sounds like instead of getting a new guitarist, they got an actual Frusciante replacement, which is comforting for a band that has been around this long. After all, this isn’t a comeback, it’s just a continuation.

When Frusciante initially left the band by way of heroin/crack/meth/alcohol after BloodSugarSexMagik, the Chili Peppers had to replace him, and then when Navarro helped them make a mostly shitty album, he was fired and a newly sober Frusciante came back into the band. Californication was the band’s next album, and Frusciante’s lobotomized brain tends to be given a lot of credit for the new, poppier aspects of their music that helped re-propel them not just into rock stardom, but pop superstardom as well. By The Way followed, then Stadium Arcadium, and now I’m With You. Somehow, the majority of these records, and One Hot Minute as well, have been referred to as comeback records, despite there never being more than 5 years between any given record. And as pieces on the band and I’m With You start to be published over the next month, Rolling Stone magazine’s initial ‘comeback’ proclamation will inevitably be repeated, if only because the band seems dedicated to fueling the idea. But this isn’t a comeback, it’s just a band that had to replace their guitarist, deal with a lot of drug issues, and made a record that is less than good. Basically, it’s what almost every successful rock band does. I’m With You isn’t a comeback album; it’s just a new record.

Somehow, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ place in rock music history is underrated. Once their new single inevitably charts, they will have had hit singles in 4 separate decades, a remarkable achievement. In discussing the idea of making a new record, Kiedis said the band wouldn’t make another epic double album, but a record that could be listened to over the course of a lunch hour, specifically citing the length of a record by The Beatles (or at least a Beatles record that doesn’t have Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da on its track listing). Flea has mentioned that during the recording of I’m With You, he spent a lot of time listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street and Tattoo You. And while the founding Chili Peppers may cite extremely influential bands here, they may not be far from that type of rarified air themselves.

During the 2000s, we have seen iconic acts like Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band take the stage at the Superbowl halftime show. These are acts that are well past their prime, yet their place in music is so secure that 30 years past their best days, we still want to have their music on in the background while we take some chicken fingers out of the oven. The Superbowl halftime show is going to be a weird place for a while if this trend of iconic acts, mixed in with a few Black Eyed Peas-esque choices (although even they brought Slash along), as the problem with this strategy is that there aren’t a whole lot of iconic acts from the 1990s and 2000s that people will want to see a decade or so from now. Britney Spears might do a halftime show, but just as many people would enjoy making fun of her throughout as would actually enjoy it. Something about the New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, O-Town and LFO doing some sort of ‘Tribute to Boy Bands’ doesn’t seem like a good idea for the Superbowl. Despite being a commercial juggernaut, nobody seems to actually like Nickleback. There will possibly be a place for The White Stripes at some point, due to their style of music and the fact that it could now be sold as a re-uniting, and maybe a Green Day appearance is in the cards. But the only band whose place is secure on that stage is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This is a band that may not on par with acts like The Rolling Stones, but will be positively remembered if only because they made so many good songs over such a long period of time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t The Rolling Stones; they’re just our Rolling Stones. And when the Chili Peppers are performing their set upside down in mid-air while suspended from army stealth helicopters, or whatever a Superbowl show looks like in 2023, I’ll be watching, probably loving every second. I’ll hope that John Frusciante will be back by then, but it really won’t matter. Frusciante coming back wouldn’t really change anything by that point. The White Stripes, Alonzo Mournings and Mickey Rourkes can come back, but the Red Hot Chili Peppers can’t. They’re here, be it through a new release or hearing Under the Bridge on the radio again, and it’s going to take a lot more than five years between albums for us to forget about them enough for them to need to comeback.



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