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This is the eighteenth in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.
When looking at the careers of some bands, seeing that they've been around for 25 years seems perfectly natural. Others it can be a little surprising even after fully researching the band's history. I've always felt that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were one of the latter of the two, but none the less this year they turn 25 having first formed way back in 1983. I first started listening to the Chili Peppers back in 1991, right around the time "Suck My Kiss" was released as a single... it remains one of my favorite songs by them to this day... and I was amazed that they'd been around so long (and through so much) even then. Now, 17 years later it's even more impressive that this band has stood the test of time, endured through the rough patches and made such great music all along the way.
Where as some band's heydays are their early works or later stuff, the Chili Peppers seem to have great material from across their entire career, albeit with significant differences from album to album. The album I've chosen to focus on today is from their later career. By the Way was released in 2003 and is one I consider to not only be a great Chili Peppers album, but just a great rock and roll album and complete work.
Starting off with the single of the same name, everything seems pretty laid back, until that choppy, funky, guitar grit kicks in. "By The Way" is a good contrast between the more rock/pop friendly side of the band and the hard, punkier, funkier, urban side of the band... that choppy riff and the lyrics make the song. "Universally Speaking" is a little more pulled back, but very melodic and sweeping without being over the top. 'This is the Place" on the other hand is darker, deeper, even slightly psychedelic in it's pulsing bass line and ringing, echoed guitar chords. It kicks in at the chorus, but is still pretty introspective and deep lyrically throughout... the first of many favorites for me.
The band shows a little softer side with the soft and subtle "Dosed" with ringing guitar arpeggios, hanging, even airy lyrics, and a sweeping, poppy chorus. 'Don't Forget Me" on the other hand is dark and brooding, with a killer bass line (doesn't Flea just rock?), some great "tinkly" guitar work and deep imagery laced lyrics. "The Zephyr Song" returns to lighter rock and roll, with a sort of swaying floating feeling... especially in the choruses... and some great backing vocals. In fact, there are lots of great backing vocals throughout this entire album. The rocker "Can't Stop" has some great ones, maybe my favorites on this album, and a great funky riff as well... this song is another favorite of mine. "I Could Die for You" is another sweet ballad-esque type of song that's pretty good, but I think the song that follows it just blows it away.
"Midnight" is easily my favorite track of this album. It's kinda slow and sweeping, it even has strings to go along with it's subtly complex guitar lick. More great backing vocals and harmonization combined with a building feel and a soaring chorus makes this one massive and almost spine tinglingly emotional. The next one is a great one too... and yet another favorite. "Throw Away Your Television" is jungle drum fantastic with a killer groove from start to finish that's certain to get you moving at least a little. "Cabron" might get a few toes tapping too with it's Latin flavored acoustic guitars and percussion.
The album continues with another slow burner called "Tear" that's got a pretty cool guitar part, some sweet trumpet and sweeping choruses. The ska-nix-the-horns "On Mercury" is another highlight recalling a little of the Clash to my ear and making it another personal favorite. "Minor Thing" is a pretty catchy light rocker too... lots of fun and lightheartedness. Then the album is summed up with the somewhat trippy "Warm Tape" with it's great chorus, and the excellent "Venice Queen", which is slightly hypnotic to start, but bursts into a acoustic stomp in the middle. It's a great high energy closer to a great album, and one heck of a trip from start to finish.
Although each of these songs works great on it's own, what really strikes me the most about this album is how much everything works together without lacking variety or going in the conceptual album direction. Concept albums are special cases because they are almost by definition designed to sound like complete works all within a single concept... whether or not they are successful in most cases is debatable. Regular albums though, are not tied together by that overarching concept and so can at times sound like just a collection of songs as opposed to a complete album. In certain extreme cases, particular songs, groups of songs or even entire halves of albums will standout as out of place. The opposite isn't good either, where the songs sound so much alike and together that there is no individuality and things start to get boring.
None of that happens here as every song seems both independent and unique, but also a connection to the others... a specific sound and style that carries through everything. It's a long album too, which makes this feeling of unity even more impressive. This isn't the only time I've thought this about a Chili Peppers album either, but I think it works especially well here.
Definitely an album I can listen to straight through without skipping any songs and never get bored or lose interest.
Overall, some people who are more familiar with the early Chili Peppers might find the more rock and roll style of this album a bit of a turn off, but I don't see it as a drastic departure from previous works. I think that it's especially interesting to start at the very beginning and work your way through with the Chili Peppers. There's definitely a progression in my mind and it's cool to be able to hear bits and pieces of their past in more recent songs. Certain moments/riffs/bass lines on this album seem to show a lot of their funk/punk roots and recall earlier albums, but at the same time there's a lot of new ground being broken and great melodic moments. If you don't want to start at the beginning though, and want to ease into this band, this might be a good album to start with as it can be a little easier to swallow than some of their early stuff. That said though, I would still recommend starting at the beginning if you're really interested as there are great songs throughout the band's entire catalog.
In conclusion, it might not be the best Red Hot Chili Pepper's album, although I personally think it's up there, but any way you look at it, By the Way is some great rock and roll. Definitely an album that you should listen to whether you're a big Chili Pepper's fan or not. Great music, and a killer complete work... so check it out. The Chili Peppers turn 25 this year, what better way to celebrate than rockin' out to a great album from them.
Pick up this album directly from Amazon here: By the Way