Monday, July 18, 2011

Music Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers Return with “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”

How time flies.  Last time the Red Hot Chili Peppers released new music, it was 2006, and I was in seventh grade.  “Dani California” was the first Chili Peppers song I heard, and I loved it so much that I got my mom to buy me the album Stadium Arcadium, which I listened to so much I wore out both CDs (remember those?).  I got into music kind of late, and Arcadium is the album that really got me interested in Rock; in fact, most of what’s on my iPod wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the Chili Peppers.  Since 2006, however, the Peppers have been mostly MIA - now it’s 2011, I’ve graduated High School, expanded my own musical horizons, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are finally back with some new music, and a new guitarist, with Josh Klinghoffer taking over for the great John Frusciante.  Their new album, I’m With You, is expected for an August 30th release, but today, they’ve released the first single from the project – “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.”

As you can tell, the title has an appropriate amount of Peppers wackiness, and listening to the track, it doesn’t feel like much time has passed at all.  Continue reading after the jump…

I think the biggest question heading into I’m With You is how the band will work without guitarist John Frusciante, who did so much to define their sound on their best albums like Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication.  After all, Frusciante left the band once before, and the resulting effort – One Hot Minute – is regarded as a low point for the group.  Much of the hype behind the new album simply comes from curiosity – will the new guy, Josh Klinghoffer, be a suitable replacement for a guitarist who is arguably irreplaceable?

“The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” doesn’t answer this question – no single song could, and the verdict will remain out until we hear the full album.  But the single is an extremely promising start, and what’s most surprising is how little their sound has changed, at least on this track.  It plays like many classic Chili Peppers songs, putting Flea – undoubtedly one of Rock’s all-time great bassists – front and center and letting his signature style fuel the song.  It’s a very groovy rhythm indeed, one that is simple yet infectious, more distinctive than most of what Flea had to play on Stadium Arcadium.  In that way, “Maggie” really sounds like classic Chili Peppers, especially in the way Anthony Kiedis’ creative and vivid lyrics match up phonetically to the bass line.  From early on, the song conjures up fond memories of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, while retaining many of the stylistic advancements Flea, Kiedis, and drummer Chad Smith have made over the last twenty years. 

The variable here is guitarist Klinghoffer, and he certainly adds something new to the sound.  The guitar part on “Maggie” is very funk-oriented, with enough wah-wah effects to make George Harrison proud; the Peppers’ haven’t been without some funk before, but Frusciante always employed it in a very dirty, gritty style.  Klinghoffer is smoother, and his sound really comes alive in the incredible chorus, where he employs a terrific range to make the guitar sing.  Klinghoffer’s playing is certainly different than Frusciante’s, while still fitting in perfectly with what the Chili Peppers do best; I think we can all agree that’s the kind of sound we want as the band moves forward, and at the very least, Klinghoffer keeps the band sounding fresh and exciting.

Exciting, in fact, may be the best word to describe the single.  It’s exhilarating to hear new Chili Peppers material after all these years, especially when the music in question displays the band in top form, and the song gets better and better the more you listen to it.  The massive cowbell presence throughout the last minute or so is especially thrilling.

Ultimately, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” is the Chili Peppers we know and love, more familiar even than much of the more traditional pop fare on Stadium Arcadium, and the hints of a new, funkier guitar sound from Kinghoffer are quite promising.  It’s a safe choice for a lead single, and if there are major sonic revelations on I’m With You, we have yet to hear them.  That’s probably a wise decision – best to keep the surprises for the big show.  For now, “Maggie” is enough to get me on board and hold me over until the real deal arrives on August 30th.  I can’t wait.   

“The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” can be found as a digital single on iTunes and other mp3 services, and although Warner Music Group has taken down some uploads, you can probably still find it kicking around YouTube.   

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