Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Great At A Time Rock Was Mediocre, Stadium Arcadium Is Very Average Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Good: Good lyrics, Duration, Some good lyrics
The Bad: Sound is remarkably average
The Basics: Good, with a few hooks that sound like other Red Hot Chili Pepper songs, Stadium Arcadium is a two-disc set that is only undermined by its lack of growth.

I wish to open my review of the latest (for now) Red Hot Chili Peppers album Stadium Arcadium by saying what I am sure will be reiterated throughout the review: this is a good album and it sounds good and I enthusiastically recommend it. The two-disc set will undoubtedly be loved by anyone who likes the Red Hot Chili Peppers or rock and roll music. But in the pantheon of albums and music, it is objectively not the most original work. Just as the argument can be made that the best songs on Californication are the radio hits that later appear on their greatest hits album, Stadium Arcadium sounds like exactly what it.

Anyway, Stadium Arcadium is a lyrically-ambitious and energetic album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it is in no way a musically creative or surprising album. Fans of Red Hot Chili Peppers have heard exactly this type music before. Indeed, there are some problematic parallels on Stadium Arcadium with songs on By The Way, most prominently is how "Turn It Again" sounds instrumentally virtually identical to By The Way's "Don't Stop." Similarly, "So Much I" sounds like one of the non-radio songs from Californication. In other words, while Stadium Arcadium sounds good and very much like Red Hot Chili Peppers, those who enjoyed Californication and/or By The Way will find it does not sound terribly original.

The two-disc Stadium Arcadium loads the listener up with all of the Red Hot Chili Peppers songs they created after their major Greatest Hits compilation. The two discs have a total of twenty-eight rock and roll songs, with fourteen tracks on each album (62:37 and 59:50, respectively) and they make good use of the c.d. medium with the way they pack the songs in. Stadium Arcadium is very much the work of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The quartet - Flea, Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith - wrote all twenty-eight songs and they play all of the main instruments. While Kiedis is only credited as a vocal performer, the other three play multiple instruments. Largely, though, the sound is that of a guitar, bass, drums rock and roll group. Stadium Arcadium was produced by Rick Rubin and considering the band has had other albums produced by Rubin, it seems fair to assume the result is an album that the Chili Peppers feel confident calling their own.

Indeed, Stadium Arcadium sounds very much like what Red Hot Chili Peppers sounds like, at least since Californication. The two-disc album (broken down into Jupiter and Mars, though both discs seem to have the same general timbre) is a blend of up-tempo rock tracks that have a pop flavor ("Dani California," "Torture Me," "Tell Me Baby") and more contemplative rock ballads that have more of a vocal emphasis and slower tempo ("Snow (Hey Oh)," "She Looks To Me"). The songs are generally articulate and the sound is very easy to groove to and enjoy.

Vocally, the songs are dominated by Anthony Kiedis and he sings clearly on most of the songs. He gets through some pretty packed lines on "Charlie" and "21st Century" and yet he enunciates clearly on this album, so it is one of their more accessible albums by the lines. Kiedis harmonizes well with John Frusciante on the refrains to "Snow (Hey Oh)" and "Desecration Smile." When forced to hold his own, Kiedis displays some pretty impressive range. On "Desecration Smile" he goes into a falsetto that seems surprisingly natural and sounds good with the instrumental and vocal accompaniment.

The sound of the album is distinctly pop-rock and the vocals and instrumentals are produced and refined to have a flawless sound quality to them. The guitars on "Charlie" and "Storm In A Teacup" have complicated riffs that never screech and there is a smoothed out sense of production that seems to have eliminated the delightful flaws that come from natural playing. Similarly, on the tracks where Frusciante accompanies the band on the keyboards, the dynamics of the songs sound more pop than rock. "We Believe" sounds like a very traditional pop track from the instrumentation and those who like the harder edged side of "Red Hot Chili Peppers" are likely to feel a little disappointed.

What they are unlikely to find fault with is Flea's presence on bass and Chad Smith's percussion. Flea's presence on "Stadium Arcadium" (the song) is impressive and strong and he reminds the rock listener just how significant the bass can be to creating a mood. Stadium Arcadium is murky and dense in large part because of the bass. Similarly, Smith is a hardworking drummer and "Hard To Concentrate" has some smooth percussion from Smith.

Lyrically, Stadium Arcadium oscillates between the significant and the ridiculous, the expressive and the obvious rhymes. On the plus side, there are songs like "Torture Me," where the band smartly mixes the political and the personal. The song is a social commentary that takes an angsty turn for the individual's place in the world when Kiedis sings "The will of God is standing still / Brazilian children get their fill, Let's go / Let's turn it up and dumb it down / The vision of your ultra sound, It's so / All the leaves are turning brown / The wind is pushing me around, Let's go / A vintage year for pop I hear / The middle of the end is near, It's so / Torture me and torture me" ("Torture Me"). This neglected song is poetic and has a weight to it that rivals some of the band's best works.

The group has a strong sense of irony and their use of metaphor is as strong as ever. They make commentary on society - ironic because they have a significant role in pop culture - and have some surprisingly thoughtful lines made stronger by decent imagery. "Slow Cheetah" arguably works because the direct lines like "I know a girl, she worked in a store / She knew not what her life was for / She barely knew her name / They tried to tell her she would never be / As happy as a girl in a magazine/ She bought it with her pay" are contrasted by the image-dominated refrain "Slow cheetah come before my forest, / Look like it's on today / Slow cheetah come, it's so euphoric, / No matter what they say." In this way, "Stadium Arcadium" actually rails against capitalism and stereotypical bodytype images and these are certainly welcome things!

Conversely, "Dani California" is a fun pop song where the words seem strung together at times only to make rhymes without any real sense of care for comprehensibility. Similarly, "Hump de Bump" is mostly incoherent and "If" is a trainwreck made up of the most obvious rhymes imaginable. Indeed, it is hard not to wince each time one hears "And if I had a clue I'd know exactly / What to do / If I were the wiser of the two. / And if I saw it all so clear / I'd write it down and bend your ear / If I were the clearer of the two " ("If").

But ultimately, Stadium Arcadium is just what one expects from a Red Hot Chili Peppers album and it is fun and good, but there are a few great and memorable songs, a few missteps and a sound that is remarkably familiar. It might not be the most original work by the band, but there is a lot of it and it is enjoyable for anyone who likes rock and roll. But it is not the most impressive work of all time, not even for the band.

The best tracks are "Slow Cheetah" (disc 1) and "21st Century" (disc 2) and the low points are the unmemorable "C'mon Girl" (disc 1) and "Turn It Again" (disc 2).

For other works by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, please check out my reviews of:
"Otherside" (single)
Greatest Hits And Videos
The Best Of Red Hot Chili Peppers


For other music reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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