Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Unlimited Love': Album Review
Red Hot Chili Peppers have never done anything in moderation. From their earliest albums as a throw-it-all-in-there band to their marathon multiplatinum records with Rick Rubin to the piling on of songs and ideas on their most recent LPs, weeding out the good from the bad has been part of the challenge with the Los Angeles "Can't Stop" hitmakers.
They're still pushing against boundaries on their 12th album, Unlimited Love, loading it with 17 songs that clock in at more than 70 minutes. The Red Hot Chili Peppers still exist on a '90s timeline where CD limits are grazed and their brand of genre-swapping alt-rock has a place. Fitting then that golden-era guitarist John Frusciante is back for his third tour of duty with the band and his first album since 2006's chart-topping Stadium Arcadium.
Unlimited Love also marks the group's first record with producer Rubin in a decade. (Their last album, 2016's The Getaway, was produced by Danger Mouse.) So the feeling of nostalgia is strong here: a concerted and deliberate attempt at reclaiming the Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication glory days. At times they get there – this is their best album since Stadium Arcadium – but there's no getting around the unmistakable bloat.
From the start, it's familiar-sounding music: Opener "Black Summer" recalls much of the band's catalog after it got serious, and scored an unlikely hit, with "Under the Bridge" in 1991. "Here After That" is highlighted by Flea's rolling bass thumps underlying Anthony Kiedis' conversational semi-raps. And "Aquatic Mouth Dance" combines their pre-breakthrough funk (with horns!) and a post-fame Kiedis-in-mature-mode vocal. And that's just the first 12 minutes.
But Unlimited Love, perhaps inspired and a little shackled by the title, is heavy on ballads and songs that slip into ruminative holes. And Kiedis' vocal tics are getting more annoying as he gets older (see: "Poster Child"). On the plus side, Frusciante brings intensity and excitement to his solos, lifting even indifferent songs (like "The Great Apes" and "Let 'Em Cry") to greater heights, and the album's middle section is the Chili Peppers' sturdiest set of songs in years. Occasional knuckleheaded lyrics aside, there's life here. But you'll need to dig a bit to uncover the rewards.