Red Hot Chili Peppers Yield Subtle Results On ‘Unlimited Love’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The last time John Frusciante returned to the Red Hot Chili Peppers after an extended, multi-year hiatus, the result was 1999’s Californication, an album that sounded both like a triumphant return to form and a compelling rebirth for the band at the time. That album not only revitalized the Chili’s sound and relevance but with its impressive slate of (now classic) songs, also effectively launched a new chapter in the band’s career that solidified them as the unlikely elder statesmen of radio-friendly alternative funk-rock in the decade and beyond. 

Fast-forward 23 years later, and once again John Frusciante has returned to the fold to record a new album with the band for the first time since 2006’s (longwinded) Stadium Arcadium. Given that, you’d be forgiven for having at least some slightly raised expectations for Unlimited Love, especially considering the generally underwhelming nature of the band’s past two albums recorded in the 16 years since (granted Stadium Arcadium was certainly not immune to underwhelming moments itself, but I digress). 

But for all the hype and expectations surrounding Frusciante’s return (not the least of which from this reviewer apparently), after multiple listens, it’s hard to come away with the impression that Unlimited Love is a particularly impressive addition to the Chili Peppers’ catalog. Essentially, Unlimited Love is the sound of a band casually jamming together with a long-lost member for the first time in well over a decade and attempting to rekindle some of that classic magic in the process. Which is to say, Unlimited Love is a decidedly low-key affair, not concerned about competing with the band’s past greatness, but rather more focused on the simple joys of being in the same room jamming together again. 

And while there’s a certain inherent beauty to that idea, unfortunately, it does not yield very compelling results on Unlimited Love. Indeed, over the course of the album’s 73-minute running time, very few (if any) of its 17 songs stand out as a clear, classic Chili Pepper “hit”, which is particularly striking given there were always at least a couple of those on practically every Frusicante-associated album in the past. That’s not to say there aren’t some good songs to be found on Unlimited Love, there are, but rather just a lack of truly great songs overall. 

Case in point is the singles released to date. While the leadoff track “Black Summer” certainly isn’t a bad song by any stretch of the imagination (Kiedis’s odd vocal inflections notwithstanding), it’s hard to argue this tune could stand toe-to-toe with most any of the band’s classic anthems/jams. “Not The One” is tediously sedate, and while “Poster Child” is probably the coolest/most entertaining of the 3 singles, in the grand scheme of things it just sounds like a somewhat average song that wouldn’t have been out of place on One Hot Minute (which is a compliment).

But despite the lack of truly great standout tracks here, upon repeated listens you do start to garner a certain appreciation for the distinctive brand of low-key mellow funk that embodies the album as a whole. It’s a deceptively unassuming approach, but not without its charms, as evidenced on the velvety “It’s Only Natural” for example, which manages to capture some of the groovy subdued beauty that made By The Way (album) such a uniquely intimate listening experience. And although it happens too few and far between on Unlimited Love, when the Chili’s rediscover their sonic chemistry and lock into an infectious groove, it’s truly a beautiful thing to behold (like the jam to closeout “Here Ever After” or the downright spicy/colorful/jazzy “Aquatic Mouth Dance” for example). 

Overall, the appeal of Unlimited Love lies in its subtle pleasures. It’s not overtly impressive (particularly upon first listen), so if you’re looking to find another “Soul to Squeeze”, “Around the World”, or “Can’t Stop”, you may very well be disappointed. But if you’re just looking to kick back, relax, and enjoy the sound of the classic lineup getting reacquainted with each other over the course of 17 new (mostly modest) jams, then Unlimited Love can be a rewarding listening experience, particularly for long-time fans with an affinity for the band. Here’s hoping they still have some of that classic magic left in the tank on subsequent releases, but for now we’re left with the more subtle pleasures the Red Hot Chili Peppers have to offer on Unlimited Love.

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7 Responses

  1. Mate, if you think the last album Frusciate played on was Californication then your research is shallow and unfounded and your whole article cannot be taken seriously unfortunately. Do a bit more research and you will see that he played on Stadium Arcadium – an equally seminal album.

    1. @ Ben. Re-read the first sentence. The last time John returned, the result was Californication. The second paragraph states that this is the first album with John since Stadium Arcadium.

  2. This review is spot on. The album is getting more enjoyable after several listens (the first time through was disappointing). I love the vibe of hearing JF and his signature sound, but where is the full-on JF experience? The end of “These are the ways” gives you a taste but there just isn’t much else – as the reviewer states, no real classics. I’m grateful they are back and I also hope there is better waiting in the tank for the future. For now, I’m enjoying this for what it is. The band chilling and jamming, getting reaquanted.

  3. i have to and have trusted that these serious musicians {the peppers} dont really just take songwriting lightly – my fave tunes are “the great apes” and “the heavy wing” – im going to see them in september with my daughter – pretty amped – i really think its way easier to listen to stuff when ur young {like i was when mothers milk came out} but i have made time to listen to UL and the album is great IMO – keep writing and listening!

  4. As a long time RHCP fan, I have to say this article is spot on. I love the album, it’s a great listening experience and joyous to listen these four friends again. But it does lack at least one song that makes you go “wow, yeah this is something else”. Probably The Heavy Wing, These are the ways or Here ever after come close to that but they are still miles away from songs like Scar Tissue, Dani California, Under the Bridge, etc.
    Overall the album is a great experience specially for fans, and it’s nice to see them together again. John definitely brings the best out of them.

  5. Was slightly let down when I first listened but trying to be open as I owe them that much, this review really hit the nail on the head! So glad frusciante is back

  6. As RHCP fan – disappointing album. Can’t believe it is the same band that made BSSM. The continuous decaying is obvious from back then. They look like pathetic bunch of guys that refuses to grow up. Sad.

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