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When John Frusciante quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the second and apparently final time in 2009, many fans wondered if the guitarist’s departure signaled the death knell for the multi-platinum funk-rock superstars.
Such fears can be put to rest with the release of the band’s tenth album I’m With You, on which Josh Klinghoffer firmly establishes himself as the world’s newest guitar hero.
Give it up for this guy: Although most axe slingers would have given their eyeteeth to join a big-time (and big paying) band like the Peppers, they would just as surely blown it by overplaying or underplaying their hands, piling on rock clichés or attempting to be Frusciante clones.
By being his own man, Klinghoffer strikes the right balance, making his presence felt by following his heart while not betraying the true sound and spirit of the group.
Sure, he’s obviously influenced by The Edge and Andy Summers (just as Frusciante was by Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa), but Klinghoffer is also a singular talent, ruled by a quest for pure sound and emotion. Like The Edge when he first appeared on the scene, he’s a newfangled sonic Jackson Pollock, splattering his canvas with hunger and spirit, ready to make a mark - his own mark.
Not to imply that the rest of the band are mere pikers; in fact, throughout much of I’m With You, the core of the Peppers – bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and frontman Anthony Kiedis – perform with a gusto not heard since their 1991 breakthrough, Mother’s Milk. Whether the new kid on the block had anything to do with their rebirth doesn’t really matter; in the end, it’s results that count.
A marked sense of maturity permeates the 14-song set, which sees the group tackling countrified ballads, garage rock, ‘70s disco and variations on funk (of course) with equal parts reverence and a need to reinvent. Even Kiedis, who does occasionally lapse into his love-it-or-hate-it nursery rhythm-like rap style, seems imbued with restraint and taste, pondering mortality and purpose throughout much of I’m With You.