By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer
“Unlimited Love,” the first album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers since guitarist John Frusciante rejoined the band in 2019, is a nice treat. While this album is not exceptional, it’s a solid record that benefits greatly from the regained chemistry of the Chili Peppers’ classic lineup and return of longtime producer Rick Rubin.
I’ll admit, while I was excited at the idea of Frusciante coming back for his third stint in the band, I was skeptical about this album. It’s been 38 years since the band’s first album, and it’s been 31 years since they broke into the mainstream with “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” Even the best bands jump the shark at some point. With the band’s last two albums being average and the lackluster singles for “Unlimited Love,” the new album was not something I was particularly looking forward to.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed “Unlimited Love.” While the Chili Peppers’ last two albums were not bad by any means, they were simply missing Frusicante’s mellow guitar playing to round out their unique rock sound.
On “Unlimited Love,” Frusciante goes between warm and mellow rhythmic funk to heavy, distorted riffs. Frusciante is one of the most versatile guitarists ever and this album greatly showcases his talent. “Tangelo,” the album’s closing track, is a standout chill acoustic song, and “Heavy Wing” starts off clean before going distorted, then back to clean. The guitar on all of the songs is fantastic, even on some of the album’s more tame songs.
Frusciante’s guitar parts mesh extremely well with Flea’s bass lines. “Aquatic Mouth Dance” opens with a funky slap bass line before Frusciante comes in to finish out the track. “Whatchu Thinkin’” also contains some great bass playing complimented well by the guitar. This album contains some of my favorite bass lines of Flea’s. On several tracks, it feels like Flea is leading the band with his rhythmic, unconventional bass lines.
While there is a lot to love on this record, there’s a fair amount to dislike as well. Vocalist Anthony Kiedis’ singing is fine, but his lyricism, as it always has been, is questionable at times. While “Poster Child” has a great melody, it has some weird lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense (“Melly Mell and Richard Hell were dancing at the Taco Bell/When someone heard a rebel yell, I think it was an infidel”). On the track, Kiedis drops tons of references to music legends like Robert Plant and Michael Jackson and calls himself the poster child of alternative rock, which he simply isn’t.
“Unlimited Love” is also a bit long and has a few tracks that should’ve been cut. The album clocks in at an hour and 13 minutes; at most this record should have been an hour. Some songs do stand out, but with 17 songs total, many are simply forgettable. I don’t think I will ever revisit “It’s Only Natural,” “She’s a Lover” or “White Braids & Pillow Chair,” and “Not the One” is a bad slow love song, something the Chili Peppers have never been good at. While only a few songs could be considered bad, the bigger sin is just how plain many tracks there are, and I feel the album would be much stronger if it was much shorter.
Altogether, “Unlimited Love” is a solid record that is the Chili Peppers’ best since 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium,” the last album to feature Frusciante on guitar. Many songs are standouts and worthy of a spot on your playlist, even if the album as a whole dips at points. “Unlimited Love” is neither exceptional nor the band’s best record, but it is a good listen for Chili Peppers fans or rock heads in general.