There is just no questioning the fact that Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the most important bands of the last 20 years. With the release of their 1991 album “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik”, the classic lineup of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, guitarist John Frusciante, bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith unleashed a fusion-rock sound the likes of which had never been heard before.
This sound was utterly original, and catapulted the band to international stardom. However, this writer believes the consistency that they had always been looking for was finally found on 2002’s album “By the Way”, the subject of this week’s RAMZine Classic.
The album’s tone is just pure funk rock. The opening song, the title track “By the Way” is just a fantastic fusion song. The rolling bass in the verse combined with Kiedis’ self-coined ‘rap singing’ is a wonderful combination and when the chorus hits, the melody stays with you for days. This is a great opening song and sets a great funky tone for the album.
Second song “Universally Speaking” has a structure which just flows perfectly. The drums keep a solid time all the way through and allow the vocals and guitar to layer over the top in a wonderful way. RHCP’s songwriting is second to none and their ability to notice what makes a song so great in a simple way is unparalleled. This song’s use of a classical string section over the mid-section chorus further shows the Chili’s versatility and what makes them one of the best bands in the world.
Next up is “This the Place”, which is a real vibrant song, and a genuine surprise on the album. It has a 70s psychedelic feel and the use of guitar effects and keyboard chords adds to the strange vibe. The chorus is a real sing along part of the song, which again, sticks in the head of the listener long after the song has finished.
Following on from this is “Dosed” which is a real soulful, reflective number. Kiedis has really outdone himself on this album with the lyrics and vocal melodies standing out. The raw emotion present in this song in particular is amazing, and is so easy to identify with. Their honesty allows the fans to connect with the album more, and has no doubt contributed to their amazing success.
Up next is “Don’t Forget Me”, a real classic number, harkening back to The Doors’ more mellow material. Smith’s drums hold an ethereal style beat, which creates a stunning atmosphere for Frusciante’s manic guitar picking to go over the top. Put this with Kiedis’ flowing vocal melody and the combination is perfect. How a band can be this versatile and yet still have their own distinctive sound is incredible.
Next is “The Zephyr Song”, one of the genuine highlights on the album, and a genuine funk number. It has the vibe of something Stevie Wonder could have written, however the attitude brought to the song by the Chili’s makes it their own. The guitar chords in the chorus complement the vocals perfectly and using piano chords to fatten this up is a fantastic idea, used to great effect.
Following this is the brilliant “Can’t Stop”, another amazing highlight. The build up at the start of this song sets the tone perfectly, and the high chorded riff is so simple yet effective. Chad Smith’s solid drumming here is inspirational and shows why he’s one of the best drummer’s on the planet. This song is another brilliant showcase for Kiedis’ rap-singing, with the melody he follows at a rapid rate bringing out the wonderfully original sound, yet staying commercial.
Up next is “I Could Die For You”, a soulful ballad which uses keyboard chords brilliantly and Kiedis’ distinctive voice soaring high over the music and creating a wonderful effect. Through this romantic song, the band show their versatility once more, with the bass in particular holding the song together.
Next up is “Midnight”. This song has a wonderful classical intro, which develops into a fantastic clean pop rock song, which is bouncy yet emotional at the same time. This is a fantastic hybrid, and once more the chorus just stands out as something special. A true unexpected highlight of the album.
Following this is the unbelievably funky “Throw Away Your Television”, which is all built on a furious tom pattern from Smith’s drums, going along with Flea’s toe-tapping bass. The lyrics are very contemporary, tackling our dependence on television. The guitar’s simple-yet-effective chords really show that less is more, and this song is one of the best on the whole album.
Next is “Cabron”, a folk acoustic song, which has such a happy vibe. The song is really underrated on the album and is surprising that it isn’t more widely known. The guitar in particular is fantastic, and the skiffle drum beat really keeps the song going and drops in and out to allow the guitar to flow. Again, it really is intelligent songwriting by the band.
Up next is “Tear”, another real soulful song, showing influences from Motown. The raw emotion on display again is brilliant and allows the band to get across personal points. People say the best songs are written about personal experiences and emotions, and that certainly is the case here. Unbelievable vocal harmonies also occur during this song and are a joy to hear.
Following on from this is “On Mercury”, a song which harks back to The Clash and Iggy and The Stooges. The melody here is wonderful and the trumpet in the background accentuates the song perfectly. The solid drums once more provide the perfect ground for the melodies to flow over the top, and the vocal harmonies in the chorus just sound perfect.
Next is “Minor Thing”, a class RHCP funk number, however with added emotion. The key to this album which makes it different from the others that they have recorded is that it is far more emotional and mature. They have found their sound and are running with it. The combination here is lethal and produces a stunning song, with an utterly fantastic guitar solo.
Up next is the spooky “Warm Tape”, which shows progressive influences on the band. The effects on the song call to mind a foggy morning, which is really quite ethereal. The versatility shown here again is astounding. The chorus is a real highlight, with the guitar riff mimicking the vocal melody.
Closing the album is “Venice Queen”, which is very mellow and a fantastic way to finish what is a stunning, complete album. The way the vocals flow over the guitar riffs. Once again, Kiedis’ and Frusciante’s harmonies add an extra musical dimension to the band and creates a truly special sound along with the piano in this song. Wonderfully written.
In closing, this is one of the most important albums personally, and is one which is very close to my heart. It’s the album which really kicked me off into playing drums seriously and ignited my real passion for music. With its inherent sense of melody, how to play best for the song across all the instruments and sheer amazing songwriting, this is one of the greatest albums of all time. Please purchase it for your collection, it will stand up there with the greats across the test of time.
FOR FANS OF: Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction