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The opening seconds of ”Monarchy of Roses,” the lead song on the first Red Hot Chili Peppers album in five years, are nearly panic-inducing: Random drum fills and squalls of guitar feedback elbow each other without any direction. Frontman Anthony Kiedis moans about promises and dreams in a distorted death rattle. It’s the sound of a rock & roll institution going to pieces, unable to find its footing after a long hiatus and the departure of yet another guitarist, John Frusciante.
Then, like a funky bolt of lightning from Valhalla, the snare kicks into gear, Flea’s fleet-fingered bass line finds a sharp groove, and suddenly everybody’s rocking like it’s 1989 again. The Chili Peppers have been knocked down so often by infighting, egos, exits, and even death (founding guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988), but I’m With You doesn’t bear any of those scars.
Like 1999’s Californication — another release that came after a hiatus and lineup reshuffle — I’m With You is greater than the sum of its many-cogged parts. The highs (the hyperactive ”Goodbye Hooray,” the festive requiem ”Brendan’s Death Song”) greatly eclipse occasional stumbles (the lifeless ”Meet Me at the Corner”). Five years ago, the L.A. denizens famously intoned, ”California, rest in peace.” And while they’re still the house band for watching the Golden State sink into the ocean, they’re making sure that the beach bums left behind have an excellently heavy soundtrack for the after-party. — Entertainment Weekly