Red Hot Chili Peppers
By the Way
The Music Box's #7 album for 2002
First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2002, Volume 9, #9
Written by John Metzger
When the Red Hot Chili Peppers first burst on the music scene in 1984 with its thrashing blend of funk, metal, punk and rap, it’s doubtful that anyone really expected the group to still be at it (let alone relevant) nearly two decades later. But right from the start, the band was adept at breaking down musical barriers, bringing together styles that naturally fit yet no one previously had thought to unite. True, the members of the Chili Peppers have mellowed a bit over the years, but as they’ve done so, they’ve also matured. Hints at what was to come lay buried amongst the clatter of the band’s breakthrough hit Blood Sugar Sex Magik. These were most noticeable in the lyrics of Anthony Kiedis, which increasingly became introspective, focusing on such topics as the perils of drug addiction and the heartache of broken relationships. Since then, the Red Hot Chili Peppers has suffered a series of ups and downs, eventually hitting rock bottom with 1995’s One Hot Minute. It was four years later when the band finally resurfaced with its surprising masterpiece Californication. There’s no question that the Chili Peppers’ basic punk-funk format was still in place, but now the group was wrapping its writhing rhythms in a supple swirl of pliable pop.
By the Way, the band’s eighth release, picks up right where Californication left off, and if anything, it perfects this new, more melodic direction, moving the Red Hot Chili Peppers further along in its foray into pop. True, there are still the occasional bursts of funk — most notably churning out of the mellifluent chorus of the title track — but for the first time, this tends to be the exception, rather than the norm. Instead, the group embraces the lush arrangements of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, the psychedelia of The Beatles, and the classic rock stylings of Led Zeppelin, absorbing each and reforming them into its own adventurous image. String arrangements, tight harmonies, indelible melodies, spaced-out atmospherics, and acoustic flourishes all combine to form some exquisitely textured tunes. And songs like Tear and Universally Speaking might leave listeners wondering which decade it is.
Yet, for all its plush pop, each song still sounds unquestionably like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the distinctiveness the band has always brought to the table remains intact. How is this possible when the difference between its debut and By the Way is so dramatic? Credit the group for taking its fans by the hand and gradually guiding them along on its journey. Over the course of the past decade, in particular, each album masterfully has laid the groundwork for the next. Indeed, the funk is still inherent in the songs on By the Way; it simply is slowed down a bit and put on display wearing a new set of clothes. In other words, by broadening its horizons and expanding its boundaries, the Red Hot Chili Peppers has managed to grow without losing itself in the process, thereby remaining a significant force in what is an often crowded and overly generic industry.
Of Further Interest...
By the Way is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box