In the last twenty-two years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have only managed to release eight albums — less than seven hours in total. So let’s get this straight: A band that has given us an average of nineteen minutes of new music a year all of a sudden has more than two hours of shit to tell us? Let’s hear it.
To be sure, interest in a new Chili Peppers album is not what it once was. Maybe that’s why early press for the double-disc, twenty-eight-song Stadium Arcadium seemed to focus on the band being back in the same studio (a spooky house in Laurel Canyon) with the same producer (Rick Rubin) as it was when Blood Sugar Sex Magik was recorded in 1991. And according to their current recording engineer, they plan on “bringing back the funk.” As it turns out, the band is having a hard time reclaiming the “magik.”
As suspected, Anthony Kiedis still has nothing to say. Sure, the Chili Peppers’ brand of funk has usually relied less on meaningful lyrical content and more on interesting alliteration and sunny odd-ball imagery. But the lyrics are especially vapid here in the Stadium Arcadium. “I gave you major, you gave me minor/ Don’t fade away like an ocean liner” is a couplet from “She Looks to Me.” Kiedis described the album as “retardedly painful funk” to MTV News. Thanks, Anthony.
Drummer Chad Smith and bassist Flea continue to command their crafts, but they stay firmly in their place as a strong if lackluster rhythm section. For a lesser band, this would not be a distraction, but precedent has been set, and Flea, especially, fails to hold up his end of the bargain.
Luckily for the rest of the band and the discerning listener, John Frusciante has become a monster guitar player in the last few years, perhaps partly due to a wildly prolific solo career that produced a slew of releases in 2004, just before recording for Stadium Arcadium began. There is a lot of room to fill in the two hours of cookie-cutter funk presented here, but in Frusciante’s able hands there is a new texture, tone or technique at every turn. The guitar is the star on both discs, titled “Jupiter” and “Mars.”
Although an outer-space theme is hinted at by the cover art (think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie posters) and the planet-inspired disc monikers, there is no concept or theme that helps explain the gaudy presentation of Stadium Arcadium. It’s as if Rubin and the band members slid all of their ideas into a generic template and hoped for the best. The album is no more than a high-volume singles campaign — an arsenal of potential radio and video hits packaged as a concept and touted as a grand return to form, just in case anyone is still paying attention to these things.