Back around the time Californication conquered the world, the Red Hot Chili Peppers must have thought they had finally cracked their perfect songwriting formula. Build a verse on a slap bass riff and Anthony Kiedis’ bawdy jock-rap, then bring in the sweet harmonies for one of those pseudo-earnest stadium singalong choruses that they do so well. That formula is applied rigidly to half the tracks here on their tenth album to the point that on the first listen, you can predict where what comes next with more ease than you should.
It pays off on ‘Monarchy of Roses’, the stomping opening track, but falls flat on many of the tracks, particularly ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ and ‘Look Around’. The absurd lyrics Kiedis spouts are the main offence on these tracks, walking an all too thin line between crude double (and single) entendre and meaningless rhyming nonsense (“Stiff club, it’s my nature/Custom love is the nomenclature” from ‘Look Around’ is the choice example, but it’s plentifully scattered across the album).
There are moments of relative inventiveness. ‘Did I Let You Know?’ steps past some dodgy couplets with a fantastic call and response chorus and Afropop rhythms. ‘Brendan’s Death Song’, a tribute to Brendan Mullen, a late friend of the group, is spectacular. Over an extended crescendo, the lyrics reflect on their lost friend, their own mortality, and coming to terms with the two.
Other ventures are less successful. The piano led ‘Happiness Loves Company’ is an interesting idea, but sounds like a bad take on an Oasis track. ‘Meet Me at the Corner’ starts as a gentle torch song that decides to become an uptempo celebration of there being plenty more fish in the sea halfway. It’s a bizarre move that makes the song feel incredibly redundant. It’s indicative of a trend that runs through the whole album, a sense that’s it not really sure what it’s trying to deal with. ‘Even You Brutus?’ tackles betrayal, but goes through a lot of clumsy religious references to get there. The character sketches of ‘Annie Wants a Baby’ and ‘Police Station’ are shrouded in too much wordplay for any depth to be built up.
The band have always had a knack for reinvention, from the alt-rock weirdness of One Hot Minute to the genre-jumping introspective pop of By The Way. But even with a new guitarist in tow, the album mainly feels like more of the same. It may keep fans happy, but it also fails to live up to the act’s potential.