Just six months after the release of their twelfth studio album, the lengthy Unlimited Love, the Red Hot Chili Peppers return with their thirteenth effort, the equally extensive Return of the Dream Canteen. The latest offering was recorded during the same sessions as the previous record, with Rick Rubin continuing as producer.
Although the band's second album of the year feels more experimental than the first, with saxophone solos and contemplative lyrical themes with numerous cultural references, it doesn't stray too far from the safe zone or lead off in any new, riskier directions. Despite several promising moments, Return of the Dream Canteen struggles with the same issues April's release battled with – the sheer size of the album sees it lag in places, with some songs feeling hastily thrown together.
The album opens with its first single, 'Tippa My Tongue', a psychedelic funk-infused welcome in which Flea's bass prominently features. 'Peace and Love' sees the funk-heavy basslines continue, and lead singer Anthony Kiedis references the late Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley before a reflective chorus in which he gives a "Shout out to my lonely friends, a message that I meant to send. I got peace and love for you right now".
'Reach Out' provides the first of numerous notable inputs from guitarist John Frusciante; a medieval-like verse riff gives way to a heavy-sounding chorus. An early highlight is 'Eddie' written as a tribute to Eddie Van Halen; the blend of Flea's basslines and Frusciante's unique guitar tones help make the song a standout. Frusciante is again at the fore of 'Fake as Fu@k', offering an unexpected tempo change between verse and chorus.
The album's pace is then slowed considerably through 'Bella', in which Kiedis sings of a lover's desire to live in Los Angeles, and 'Roulette' which continues the relaxed funk vibe. 'My Cigarette' further drags the album along, with the repetitive chorus of, "My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my cigarette", proving little more than an irritating earworm. The record is given an upward push with 'Afterlife', which offers a memorable chorus and guitar solo, yet still seems to melt into the blend of songs that are overly reliant on funk basslines.
Ten songs in, 'Shoot Me A Smile' provides one of the record's highlights; a warm guitar riff helps the song on before the memorable chorus in which Kiedis and Frusciante both contribute vocals. Unfortunately, the album then struggles through 'Handful' and 'The Drummer', both of which pass, leaving little of note.
The later stages of the album see some of its best offerings. 'Bag of Grins' shows off the band's ability to utilise complex, soaring chord progressions, meanwhile 'La La La La La La La La' combines relaxing piano chords with uplifting vocals, particularly during the chorus, which also has the added backing of gentle saxophone licks. Frusciante's medieval-style riffing reappears on 'Copperbelly', with the heavy chorus offering drummer Chad Smith time to shine. The penultimate song 'Carry Me Home' sees Frusciante pay homage to Jimi Hendrix with one of his most noteworthy guitar performances on the record.
The contemplative lyrical mood of the album takes prominence on the closing track 'In The Snow'. During the opening verse, Kiedis is at his most self-aware, "My mates have all gone married now, off living in a kindred cloud, I'm not that kind". The lyrics' openness ensures the record finishes on a positive note, with Kiedis' quick spoken-word outro proving memorable.
While there are several standout tracks on Return of the Dream Canteen, they prove too few and far between. Once again, the length of the album proves detrimental to its success. Its predecessor Unlimited Love struggled because of its length, yet their latest offering is even longer, clocking in at over seventy-five minutes.
The individual performances of the band's members shine through, with Frusciante the standout, but the album struggles from a lack of energy at times, instead choosing to stick in a funk-heavy safe zone. As I concluded with my review of Unlimited Love, their latest album also lingers and has little sense of direction. A reminder that sometimes less is more.