The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ highly anticipated new album Unlimited Love hit shelves in April of this year to critical and commercial success. As part of the album rollout, each member of the band sat down to speak with producer Rick Rubin for his Broken Record podcast, where Flea spoke of Anthony Kiedis’ work on the album, calling it “the best he’s ever done.”
The series of podcast episodes – which features individual episodes with bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith, guitarist John Frusciante, and one episode with both John Frusciante and singer Anthony Kiedis guesting – sees the band members getting uncharacteristically candid in discussions entailing everything from the band’s humble beginnings to the polarizing second return of John Frusciante.
In discussing Kiedis’ contributions to the newest album from the foursome – their first since 2016’s The Getaway and the first with John Frusciante since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium – Flea was highly enthusiastic of his longtime friend’s input.
“This is just the best he’s ever done, I feel, by light years,” the bassist said of Kiedis’ vocal work. “He [expletive] rocked it on this album, man. He’s singing beautifully… There’s no studio magic, he’s singing this [stuff.]”
Kiedis’ progression as a vocalist has been the subject of much discussion over the course of the Chili Peppers’ storied career, with the singer’s early approach having been much more informed by the stylistic leanings of hip-hop artists.
Specifically, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s seminal record “The Message” (acknowledgement of which can be heard in the opening lines of Unlimited Love’s “Aquatic Mouth Dance”) changed Kiedis’ perception of what being a vocalist entailed.
“When “The Message” became the hottest song [of the] summer, it started dawning on me that you don’t have to be Al Green or have an incredible Freddie Mercury voice to have a place in the world of music,” he wrote in his 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue. “Rhyming and developing a character were another way to do it.”
Though Kiedis began his tenure as vocalist for the Chili Peppers utilizing a style that relied heavily on what Flea calls “rapping and yelling,” his eventual emergence as a dynamic singer has been hinted toward numerous times throughout the band’s early discography.
The band’s second album Freaky Styley – recorded with producer, Parliament-Funkadelic band leader, and overall funk legend George Clinton – saw the eccentric quartet tackle a ‘70s favorite from Sly and the Family Stone, “If You Want Me to Stay,” which Flea had introduced to the sessions.
In his memoir, Kiedis describes the process of preparing to record the song as “daunting to me, because I can sing anything I write, but another man’s tune is always a challenge – let alone one by Sly Stone, one of the most original vocalists in terms of phrasing.”
The next album from the group, 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, saw Kiedis continue this progression of melodic expression, though some might call him more of a reluctant participant than anything at this juncture.
Indeed, producer Michael Beinhorn was adamant about extracting a more accessible, melodic presentation from the singer. But the band as a whole were enveloped in this stylistic evolution as well, with guitarist Hillel Slovak making great strides both technically and creatively during his time away from the band prior to the album’s recording.
One notable product of Slovak’s stylistic evolution was “Behind the Sun,” a tune Kiedis referred to as “pure Hillel inspiration,” and the first true, original ballad to be recorded by the band.
Kiedis would continue to sing more on the band’s next album and the first to feature longtime on-again off-again guitarist John Frusciante, Mother’s Milk, but it was the release of 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik that would see the vocalist fully embrace his more understated and melodic sensibilities.
Tender ballads such as “I Could Have Lied,” “Under the Bridge,” and “Breaking the Girl” made waves for their utilization of this more prominently accessible, yet still fully original vocal delivery which had theretofore been all but unheard of for the band, and would become a staple of their signature sound over subsequent decades.
In his conversation with Rubin – who occupied the producer’s desk for Blood Sugar Sex Magik, as well as all subsequent albums from the band with the exception of 2016’s The Getaway, recorded with guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and produced by Danger Mouse – Flea credits the extensive and still ongoing influence of the band to Kiedis’ efforts in learning and growing as a vocalist, stating of the frontman, “the longevity of the band has everything to do with his evolution as a singer.”
While the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ three instrumentalists were together for much of the music’s recording, Kiedis revealed in his own interview with Rick Rubin that his vocals were recorded over a period of several months with Rubin in Kauai, Hawaii.
The resulting album not only saw the band exploring musical territory which they had never broached prior, it delivered what, indeed, are some of the most impressive vocal performances of Kiedis’ career – not the least of which can be found within lead single “Black Summer.”
The dynamic subtlety on display in ballads such as “Not the One,” “Tangelo,” and “White Braids & Pillow Chair” is palpable, while tracks like “The Great Apes,” “Whatchu Thinkin,’” and “Bastards of Light” boast a bombastic power that one could never have anticipated from the esoteric singer during first decade or two or the band’s lifespan.
While the finished product features 17 tracks, the band reportedly recorded several dozen songs during the sessions for Unlimited Love, and have even hinted at the potential release of some of the material which as of yet remains unheard.
What fans received, however, makes light work of putting the broad and diverse range of styles associated with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on full display. From the aggressive funk of “Aquatic Mouth Dance” to the party-centric “She’s a Lover,” it’s hard to imagine a true fan of the band walking away from the record disappointed.
Fans of the band’s early work will be delighted to know that Kiedis’ trademark rapped vocals are not fully pushed to the wayside and crop up at a number of points throughout the album. Specifically, the promotional single “Poster Child” finds the frontman waxing poetic about a multitude of topics in what almost feels like a single ceaseless vocal line with little in the way of space for breathing.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ latest album, Unlimited Love, is available now in all digital and physical formats.
Flea Applauds Kiedis’ Work On Latest Red Hot Chili Peppers Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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