As the old adage goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and for 39 years Red Hot Chili Peppers have well to stick to a formula which is uniquely their own, whilst also taking a magpie-like interest in picking up the shiniest of multiple genres. Doesn’t matter that their influences are ridiculous broad – everyone from Defunkt, Black Flag, Bob Marley, The Clash, Beach Boys (yes, you read that right) – everything they touch sounds unmistakably, well, them.
Over the years, personnel have come and gone, and so have the band’s fortunes. In 2021, the core members, vocalist Anthony Kiedis, Flea (bass), Chas Smith (drums) and John Frusciante entered Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studios in Malibu and embarked on a mammoth writing spree eventually recording 48 songs, with Rubin at the helm. The first fruits of these sessions appeared on the hit album Unlimited Love, released last April. A mere six months later we get part two: their 13th LP Return of the Dream Canteen. It would be tempting to think these 17 new tracks are essentially leftovers and B sides, not strong enough to make the first cut. But that’s not the case. A tad over long at 75mins, there are enough highlights to make Dream Canteen worthy of investment.
Kicking off with the funk-laden track Tippa My Tongue – the album’s first single – Frusciante’s groovy riffs and Kiedis’ gibberish vocalisations lead us into a somewhat psychedelic sound world. The track additionally lyrically attempts to mark a new era through verbally paying homage to old hits – specifically, the fourth song on their 1991 classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik – “We’ve only just begun, funky monks are on the run”.
The heavy funk groove continues on Peace And Love which features a bassline uncannily reminiscent of Thundercats’ mega-hit Them Changes (Thundercats recently supported them on tour). Peace And Love’s mid-tempo shift continues on other album highlights, such as Eddie.
Following guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s death two years ago, Flea conjured up “an emotional bassline”, which evolved into a fully-fledged homage to the band’s late hero. Beginning with downstrokes strikingly similar to their 2002 mega-hit By the Way, the track breaks into stripped back Vampire Weekend-style Afropop whilst referencing Van Halen’s love for cars – “the devils Camaro, parked in a high school lot”. Where the real sentimentality lies, however, is in Frusciante’s emotionally charged guitar solo – a respectful nod to the departed rock legend.
At times Dream Canteen navigates a slower pace through songs such as Bella, Roulette, My Cigarette and La La La La La La La La – the latter a romantic ballad which takes them into unfamiliar musical territory – featuring a soft, slow, stripped-back piano line, with Kiedis’s tender vocals floating above.
All in all, this is a fine album with smatterings of classic peperami moments, a little bit of filler, and a plenty of new creative shoots to suggest there’s life in the old dogs yet.
Writer and professional flautist Grace Twomey (MMus) performs regularly at gigs in South London where she’s based. All her areas of expertise include classical, pop, indie, latin and folk music.