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Red Hot Chili Peppers: By The Way


Red Hot Chili Peppers

Album: By The Way
Label: Warner Bros.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers hasn't always appeared to be the band most likely to age gracefully. After all, these are guys who've battled horrific drug addiction, line-up shuffles, and a death in the family, and whose oft-imitated style of funk-punk spent the mid-'90s falling almost as far from commercial prominence as swing or ska did a few years later. But then came 1999's Californication, which not only refined and updated the group's sound, but also deepened it, tempering RHCP's hedonism with a heartsickness that won old fans back into the fold. (A couple of killer singles, "Scar Tissue" and "Otherside," didn't hurt.) Now, its ship righted, the band returns with By The Way, which continues on Californication's more mature path, almost to a fault. The sticker on the packaging all but promises diminished returns: "Over 68 minutes of music" isn't always an enticement with a band so prone to padding, and a few duds pop up here and there. "Universally Speaking" isn't quite as toothless as its worst line—"Simply put, I saw your love stream flow"—but it's close, and "Throw Away Your Television" sounds as musically leaden as its target is obvious. But the best tracks more than overshadow the filler, as "Can't Stop," "I Would Die For You," and the lush future hit "Tear" match heartfelt confessionals with ingratiating, almost overbearing pop hooks. By The Way inevitably suffers for its familiarity: Had it followed 1995's so-so One Hot Minute instead of Californication, it would qualify as a revelation instead of a worthy retread. But the fact that the group is standing at all has to count as a triumph in and of itself. Its continued musical relevance, with all the high expectations that engenders, is just a borderline-miraculous bonus.