Chili Peppers drop hot Jupiter and even better Mars

By Seth Satterlee

Over the last 23 years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have established themselves as the most innovative band in music—I guess I should say “disputably,” but it really isn’t disputable. They have tried every genre of music that is worth making—which is pretty much everything except country—and have bridged the gap between the rock and rap worlds, bringing together listeners from both genres. Let me name a few examples: soft rock (“Under the Bridge”), pop rock (“By the Way”), hard rock (“Give it Away”), rap (“Around the World”), Latin (“Cabron”), doo-wop (“Someone”), funk (“Hump de Bump”), and ska (“On Mercury”). The point is: The Chili Peppers have done it all.

On May 9, with the release of Stadium Arcadium, they expanded their repertoire even further. With nearly four years since their last release (By the Way), Stadium Arcadium was, needless to say, highly anticipated. With 38 recorded tracks, the Chili Peppers originally planned to release a series of three smaller CDs. What eventually hit stores, though, was a double album—composed of Jupiter, the first CD, and Mars, the second, with 14 tracks each. The task of making a solid album with 28 songs is a big one, and, in the simplest terms, the album is absolutely monumental. But the Chili Peppers are most definitely back, and they come bearing one of their best albums to date.

For four years now, I’ve had to listen to the bullshit debate between Chili Peppers “fans” about By the Way being taken over by guitarist John Frusciante and the music not living up to the Chili Peppers of the past. Screw everyone who said that—or even thought it. Isn’t it OK for a band to evolve? The bass-dominated sound that came from Michael “Flea” Balzary’s unbelievable skills in the first six albums made the Peppers famous, but, with all due respect, Flea isn’t the only Chili Pepper who can play. Flea, the greatest living bassist, and Frusciante, the greatest living guitarist—this, too, is undisputable—play in the same band, so of course there is going to be a balance between the sounds. Just because Frusciante busted out a couple of sick solos on the album doesn’t mean Flea didn’t have his place in nearly every song. “Throw Away Your Television,” the most underappreciated track on the album, is basically Flea’s song. But to me, the funniest thing is that the Chili Peppers have absolutely no qualms about their own sound. They make great music and couldn’t care less about who is controlling the sound. They would be the world’s happiest band, if heroin hadn’t killed two of their members and driven another into rehab. But for all those disbelievers, just listen to Stadium Arcadium.

I think of Chili Pepper songs in three ways: great songs, good songs, and catchy songs. I’ve never heard a song of theirs that didn’t fall in one of these categories. By the Way had seven great songs, seven good songs, and one catchy song. Californication: seven, four, four. And Stadium Arcadium: 13, 10, 5. I am, of course, biased because for me, the Chili Peppers are the greatest band to ever play. Now, on to the actual music.

To everyone who had a problem with By the Way, Flea plays a much bigger part in Stadium Arcadium. He commonly sets the stage for Frusciante to come in with a nasty solo and “clean up,” as lead singer Anthony Keidis actually says in “Readymade.” The album’s first single, “Dani California,” falls in the pop-rock category. Mixing some intense rock with a little psychedelic and funk, the Chili Peppers start the album off with a bang. Chad Smith’s drumming has obviously improved since By the Way, which adds a nice flavor to Keidis’s quirky lyrics and the dynamic duo of Flea and Frusciante.

The song closes with an intense, intricate Frusciante solo, which happens to be very reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” A statement? I think so. Jupiter continues with “Snow ((Hey Oh)),” which is a softer song with a pleasant beat. Frusciante’s opening runs about 100 miles per hour, and he continues the same riff for nearly the entire song, making me wonder about hand fatigue and worry about carpal tunnel syndrome. The guy is a magician.

The rest of Jupiter is a tad sparse. Most of the really good stuff is rather slow; only a few of the upbeat songs hold their own. That said, the slower songs on Jupiter are really good. The title song, “Stadium Arcadium,” deserves a few listens because—although it doesn’t stick out as a title track like “By the Way”—it grows on you.

The five-minute “Stadium Arcadium” has you falling asleep when, suddenly, like a P.Funk meteor from the past, “Hump de Bump” takes the stage. What a weird song. Mixing rock with funk, the song is reminiscent of the style of music pioneered by former Chili Peppers producer George Clinton. But if you thought that’s all the song has to offer, you are oh-so-wrong. Near the end, we get a taste of some weird tropical sounds and a nice solo by Flea—on the trumpet, of all things. Sweet. Also worth a listen are “Slow Cheetah,” “Especially in Michigan,” and “Hey.” All slow songs, they fill the gaps in the rest of Jupiter. Each is an emotional song with rather strange lyrics—who’d have guessed?

Mars is the better of the two CDs. I could spend a page on 8 of the 14 songs. If you have any interest in the Chili Peppers, you need to hear “Desecration Smile,” “She Looks to Me,” “If,” “Made You Feel Better,” “Animal Bar,” and “We Believe.” But the two best on Mars are most definitely “Hard to Concentrate” and “Readymade.” “Hard to Concentrate,” the third song, is a love song like the Peppers have never made before. With a hand drum and the bass, the core of the music effectively highlights Keidis’s wonderful lyrics. It sounds like a wedding song and will make you cry like you’re at a wedding, too. It is the prettiest and most peaceful track the Red Hot Chili Peppers have ever recorded. With poetic mastery by Keidis and a smooth solo by Frusciante, the creative genius of Flea and Smith becomes a masterpiece.

Three songs later, with enough time to wipe the tears away, comes “Readymade.” With a fierce bass intro, the song gets your head bobbing immediately. It is impossible not to feel like a badass just listening to this song. About halfway through, Keidis steps back from the mic and says, “Clean it up, Johnny,” a prelude to a ridiculous guitar solo and some gibberish we haven’t heard since “Around the World.”

In closing, Stadium Arcadium is right on the mark. I’m sure I haven’t realized its full mastery yet—it took me a year to fully appreciate By the Way—but when I do, it’ll be my favorite Chili Pepper album to date. With that said, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have solidified themselves as the greatest four men to ever pick up instruments and play.