After more than a decade spent apart, John Frusciante is back in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This has brought a glimmer of excitement from even the most cynical of Peppers fans who have been nothing short of disappointed by their past two albums, Getaway and I’m With You.
After all, the last time John returned to the band, we got Californication, an album that defined the band’s sound during their most prolific decade.
Unlimited Love however, is much subtler and you have to look deeper to find its appeal.
If I had to describe Unlimited Love in one word, it would be ‘familiar’. The natural chemistry of the band with Frusciante is certainly there and they sound like classic Peppers, but after a few listens now, it’s hard to really talk it up as an impressive addition to their discography.
The album in essence sounds like a group of friends finally back together again, enjoying the camaraderie, and attempting to find some of that magic that made them one of the most loved bands in history.
And while there’s certainly a beauty and comfort in feeling that camaraderie through the music, what resulted was a 73-minute long collection of songs that don’t really stand out (other than maybe Aquatic Mouth Dance, but I’m biased towards how fun and stupid the lyrics are).
This is honestly quite surprising considering that within all the albums that Frusciante was involved in, even the ‘lesser’ ones, there was always a hit or two sprinkled in there. That’s not to say the album isn’t good, or isn’t fun, it’s classic Peppers fun and funk.
But, it’s just not great like fans have grown accustomed to with Frusciante.
And despite the the overall result in Unlimited Love, John Frusciante as a guitarist and musician certainly didn’t miss a beat. While he’s no longer the bedroom lick guy, he’s still pumping out cool little subtle licks and solos like on She’s a Lover.
However, the band and the album are limited by the struggles of a late-era release. They need to appease the nostalgia of their beloved fans but can’t risk self-parody, a line that is near impossible to walk and certainly limited John’s musical creativity
The three singles released prior to the album sum the late-era release struggle perfectly.
Black Summer was a grungy, funky anthem that had a cool flow to it, but wouldn’t face up to any classic anthem.
Not the One was a subtle track, but frankly came off as a little boring.
The best of the three came in the form of Poster Child, it’s funky and has that classic Pepper’s charm, but ultimately it just sounds like a skippable track on One Hot Minute.
But if you move past the lack of any real hits on the album, you gain a level of respect for it after a few listens. The unassuming and subtle vibe of the whole album has charm, and when the Peppers do recapture some of their magic, it sounds brilliant.
The smooth It’s Only Natural, is a subtle, groovy and velvety track that wouldn’t feel out of place on the mellow By The Way. And when they do find their chemistry and all the four find a flow, it’s a beautiful thing for any Peppers fan to hear, the jam to finish Here Ever After and the funky flow of Aquatic Mouth Dance hit home very nicely.
Overall, though, the appeal of the album is in its subtleties. You do have to dive deeper and listen a few times, but if you do you can appreciate what the album is at its core. A fun and long overdue jam session from everyone’s favourite funk-rock band, with some very (very) small specks of gold.
So if you’re after a Californication, Can’t Stop or Good Time Boys, you may have to look elsewhere.
But if you’re a lifelong fan of the Peppers and just want to kick back and relax with your favourite band and enjoy the reunion, Unlimited Love may be just the fix for you.