by Clint Burgess
By the Way (Warner) is the most consistent outing yet from a band that, over its long career, has had more than its share of ups and downs. The classic Chili Peppers lineup of Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante and Chad Smith earned their stripes with Blood Sugar Sex Magic and Californication and have once again pulled cosmic energies from the beyond to create something spectacular. The album pieces together 20 years of love, loss, survival and triumph -- familiar themes that are enriched with enough twists and metaphoric facades to keep them sounding fresh.
The title track features a beautifully crafted chorus enhanced by a frenetic guitar and bass jaunt that hints at the musical roots of the band. But that is the paradox of this album, for it flawlessly blends the Peppers of old with Beach Boys harmonies and a menagerie of other sounds not previously heard from the group. Change is the order of the day. Loyal fans need not be alarmed, however, as the raucous punk-funk the Peppers are known for is still present, though understated. As a natural progression from the last album, By the Way eclipses the group's previous work and continues as a rightful and innovative heir. Keidis' lyrics from the song "Midnight" sum it up this way: "Just a minute while I reinvent myself." Rick Rubin was again the man behind the mixing board. His objectivity and vision have made him an indispensable component of any RHCP project.
The most surprising element of this record is singer Kiedis' vastly improved vocal prowess. He croons and swoons to turn in the performance of his career on songs like the sure-to-be-a-hit "Dosed" and "The Zephyr Song," in which he explores the upper echelon of his range. Guitarist Frusciante has emerged as the artistic epicenter of the group. He professes to put every bit of energy he has into music because it's the very reason he's still alive -- and it shows. His ascension from the depths of a six-year heroin binge is nothing short of miraculous, and he's certainly making up for lost time with masterpieces such as "Can't Stop" and "This is the Place." His love of electronic synth-pop (explored more fully on his solo projects) translates into new textures that adorn the songs on By the Way without detracting from them.
To try to mask my enthusiasm for this record would be absurd. Unabashedly, here in August, I'm proclaiming it the album of the year.