“I want to rock you like the ‘80s,” Anthony Kiedis cheekily sings on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ current single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.” The band, of course, is still both battling and embracing the ‘90s sound that boosted them into the mainstream rock stratosphere on their latest “I’m With You.”
There are signs of change and even improvement here. Acoustic ballad-like “Brendan’s Death Song” is epic deliverance, in a swirl of “yeahs!” and a sonic stretching-out for veteran producer Rick Rubin. I don’t think piano showtunes fit Kiedis’ rubber-band voice, but the rhythm section is divine on “Happiness Loves Company.” The keys also help back “And You Brutus?”, which has its moments of Maroon 5-like pop grooves, an about-face from the aggro of predecessor “Hooray Goodbye.”
Sunny, solid “Maggie,” is very obviously a set standout, but still has Flea's overdriven low-end funk and Kiedis handsomely rounding out his vowels like a bass, busting out the end with a scat. “Annie Wants a Baby” could very well be the next single, with a darker slant and easy, unobtrusive lines from Josh Klinghoffer – who replaced longtime guitarist John Frusciante for the recording of this album.
But that song --like so many other songs from RHCP’s catalog -- is partially crippled by Kiedis’ vague, half-invested lyrics, still frequently speak-sung. Sometimes he arrives like a clear-eyed beach wizard, like on “Look Around”: “Custom love is the nomenclature / Turn down mass confusion / Hit the road because we just keep cruisin' / Double my fun, double my vision.” Then he’s the randy courtier in disco-rocker “Monarchy of Roses” (“The cloth between my former queen, her legendary stare / The holy tears that I am in, the lovely cross to bear”) followed by lazy pursuant in “Police Station” ("I guess I didn't see it coming / Now I guess it's me who's bumming”).
Still, this all beats the double-disc glut of RHCP’s last “Stadium Arcadium.” It’s a bit softer, shorter, though short on memorable hooks. Unevenly, RHCP continue to be one of America’s most beloved rock acts, but this set may try fans’ patience.