Nearly 40 years into their career, the twelfth studio album Unlimited Love sees the Red Hot Chili Peppers once again hone their trademark funk-rock sound. With guitarist John Frusciante rejoining the band, it sees what many view as the classic line-up together for the first time in 16 years. With producer Rick Rubin, known for producing their most successful albums, also coming back into the fold. While Unlimited Love sees the band draw on past influences, it fails to live up to the standards previously set.
The album starts on a high note with the single 'Black Summer', which immediately brings Frusciante's signature guitar sound to the fore, along with his backing vocals, reminiscent of his work on 2006's Stadium Arcadium. Singer Anthony Kiedis sings that he's "been waitin' on another black summer to end", perhaps a nod to the again-returning guitarist. The strong start is maintained through 'Here Ever After', a feel-good song destined to be a hit during live performances, which sees Kiedis at his best with a strong vocal showing.
One of the more funk-infused songs comes in the form of 'Aquatic Mouth Dance', which allows Flea to take centre stage with his bass riffs which are prominent throughout. Although the song fails to land any memorable moments lyrically, the addition of trumpets and a saxophone leave, at times, a feeling of department store muzak.
'Not the One' offers the first gentle ballad on the album, in which Kiedis offers a number of reasons as to why he is "not the person that you thought I was." The track doesn't quite hold on to the emotive intent it sets out with, falling victim to its length - at almost four and a half minutes long, it feels as though there is a chorus too many.
Another lull develops through the successive trio of 'Poster Child', 'The Great Apes' and 'It's Only Natural'. Of the three songs, only 'The Great Apes' makes an instant impression thanks to a catchy chorus during which Kiedis professes his desire for "the great apes to be free."
One of the high points comes around the halfway mark of the album. 'These Are The Ways' seems to offer a reflective look at life in the United States. Contemplative softer verses, with lines such as, "Have we all had enough" and "Can we all back it up?" are countered with a heavy chorus in which Kiedis proclaims, "These are the ways when you come from America". It also offers one of Chad Smith's most distinguished drumming performances on the album.
'Bastards of Light' is one of the catchier songs later on the album, although the main takeaway is that it seems more an attempt to set the record for the number of times the word 'bastard' has been used in a song, rather than anything more meaningful. The majority of the second half of the album suffers a similar fate; while showcasing the accomplished musicianship of Frusciante, Flea and drummer Chad Smith, many of the songs fail to leave any memorable, emotive moments – a case of many punches thrown, but few blows landed. One song that does land later on the album is 'Veronica', notably for its vibrato-effected guitar riff and a time signature change between the verses and chorus.
The album ends on a positive note, similar to how it opens. The penultimate song 'The Heavy Wing' provides one of the standout moments on the record. This emotive, well-arranged song sees Frusciante providing lead vocals and one of the more memorable guitar solos from Unlimited Love. Finally, the bittersweet ballad 'Tangelo' closes the album by mixing acoustic guitar and synthesizers with heartfelt lyrics such as, "The dream of this love never died", which help create a song that does not outstay its welcome.
Unlimited Love has all the hallmarks of a great rock album with some excellent songs, but unfortunately, it falls short owing to its length. At over seventy-three minutes with seventeen tracks, it fails to maintain a consistent level. It would be possible to create a ten-track album from what's on offer on Unlimited Love that would be an eight, or even nine, out of ten, but sadly too many tracks that would have been better suited as B-sides made the final cut. Fans of the band will love seeing the classic line-up being so productive and in good form, but ultimately, Unlimited Love seems to be a record that lingers and has little sense of direction.