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Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Unlimited Love’ is an album divided

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Unlimited Love’ is an album divided

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Unlimited Love’ is an album divided
April 14
15:00 2022

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Unlimited Love” provides more of the band’s iconic sound while also stretching its wings to reach new sounds to mixed results.

“Unlimited Love” stands as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 12th studio album, and the first to top the charts since their 2006 hit “Stadium Arcadium.” Also returning for the first time since the aforementioned 23-song mega-album is guitarist John Frusciante.

While the album’s title promises a boundless array of excitement and positivity, the songs provided are unfortunately weighed down by the band’s attempts at reaching too far beyond their notorious sounds. Many of the new musical choices are dissonant to the band’s usual toolkit and often create confusing mid-track contrast.

The neon-clad album opens with the soft-touched guitars of Frusciante through “Black Summer,” providing a much cooler entry to the album than many in their discography. “Black Summer” is a good starting point for listeners as it introduces the Chili Peppers in a way that is familiar while hinting at some of the newer concepts the album touches base on.

Unfortunately, anything the opening song sets up is quickly dismantled as “Here Ever After” introduces the most notable of the album’s problems very quickly. Anthony Kiedis ditches his usual tone to modulate his voice in a way that sounds like someone trying to imitate his own sound. The instrumentation in “Here Ever After” isn’t troublesome, but the chord progression that Kiedis’ voice hits feel awkward. A discomfort that’s nailed down by his insistence to speak every fifth word of every line instead of singing it.

Kiedis is no stranger to stretching his vocal range to the benefit of a song, as his performance on earlier albums like “Freaky Styley” differs greatly from later songs on albums like “The Getaway” to better match the tone and style of each project. But the on-beat talking in “One Way Traffic” and parts in “Here Ever After” provide no compliment to the rest of the sound being presented and come off as odd.

Instrumentally, the band also plays with new ideas. “Aquatic Mouth Dance” calls back to the band’s funkier “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” album and throws in a few brass instruments for good measure. “Poster Child” certainly lives up to its name, providing arguably the most consistent sound and also jumping into the funky sound that “Aquatic Mouth Dance” introduces to the album.

With 17 songs on the album, the Peppers have given themselves plenty of room to explore a wide variety of sounds and organize them in a way that flows organically. Instead, the album is a grab-bag of tones that have the listener constantly thinking, “What’s next?”

The worst offenders of this indecision are clearly “Bastards of Light” and “The Heavy Wing.” The former of which opens with droning synths before quizzically pivoting to twanging guitars straight out of a country song until they eventually throw both ideas out to shred electric and plunge Kiedis’ voice in effects. “The Heavy Wing” gives John Frusciante a whole half of the song to show off, but the constant back-and-forth between his portions and Kiedis’ makes the listener wonder why Frusciante couldn’t have had a whole song to himself.

With this disorganized sound, it is hard to imagine that any one song could escape this lackluster experimentation, and yet the band’s almost 40-year experience shines through when it can. “Whatchu Thinkin’” has a chorus that explodes with complexity and flourishes before nestling back in comfortable bridges and stanzas that are contrasting but complementing. “White Braids and Pillow Chair” gives Kiedis a chance to use the sing-talking in a way that adds to the rest of the composition.

Finally, the album calms itself down in its last song, “Tangelo,” a mid-day lullaby that really feels like Kiedis knows what “Unlimited Love” means.

“Unlimited Love” may not be the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s most consistent album or have career-redefining songs, but it clearly is an album that the band enjoyed putting together. It can be frustrating to listen to due to the breakneck shifts in tone, but that back-and-forth is representative of the whole project. When it disappoints, it is for good reason, but when it surprises it shines.

Featured Illustration By Erika Sevilla

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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