Red Hot Chili Peppers - I'm With You 2LP

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Children are born, but a friend dies. A new guitarist arrives as the old one leaves. And a band is reborn after an overdue break. Beginnings and endings. That's 2011's I'm With You, truly the beginning of a new era for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The tenth album of the Los Angeles band's singular career sees the band refreshed, renewed, once again working with producer Rick Rubin. It expands the same combination of funk and finesse, intensity and tenderness that's made the Peppers sine qua non in modern rock, but with a new set of life experiences from the intervening years that coalesced into a dynamically fresh start.

I'm With You was written collectively by the four members – founding singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith (who's been with the band since 1989) and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (the new guy, though he's been a long-time friend of the band and served as second guitarist on much of the Stadium Arcadium tour). That process, coming after the band took two years off following its 2006-2007 world tour, happened in a full year of sessions starting in a Hollywood basement and continuing in the unlikely idyll of Big Sur, where they used a studio converted from a barn at Beach Boy Al Jardine's spread. Recording was done in Los Angeles and at Malibu's Shangri-La Studios. The result is the most heartfelt, playful and accomplished album in the band's career.

The very opening of the album heralds the tour de force to follow, with an exuberant flurry of drums and metallic guitar fanfare opening the multi-faceted, multi-chromatic "Monarchy of Roses." The song, which Kiedis says is about the "monarchy of friendships" in the community that continues to nurture the Peppers, mixes funk and hard rock (the working title at one point was "Disco Sabbath") as only the Peppers can. Flea brought some new approaches to the album by writing some on piano (he studied piano and music theory at USC during the hiatus), Klinghoffer added dimensions to the sound not just with is playing but with his writing and some complementary vocals, while Smith brought in an array of textures beyond past Peppers recordings, teaming often with Brazilian-born percussionist Mauro Refosco (who worked with Flea in the Atoms for Peace all-star ensemble) and in several songs joined by Latin-percussion great Lenny Castro. Pianist Greg Kurstin (The Bird and the Bee) also appears on several tracks and Mike Bolger added trumpet to "Take Me Home."

Even some of the most familiar Chili Peppers trademarks and territories sound nicely, well, unfamiliar here both by the Klinghoffer infusion and the spirit the others brought to the project following the time off. The Flea bass that pops open funky "Factory of Faith" and "Annie Wants a Baby," the flash-rock rush of "Goodbye Hooray," the loose-limbed turnarounds in the closing jam of "Ethiopia" (inspired by Flea and Klinghoffer getting lost in that country while on a music charity organization trip), the speak-sing-piano lure of "Even You Brutus?" and the wide, joyous, familial embrace of the closing "Dance, Dance, Dance." And Kiedis provided his richest set of highly personal observations and colorful characters – largely drawn from the band's fertile Hollywood community with varying degrees of reality, such as the titular figures of "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" and "Annie Wants a Baby."