When it was announced in 2009 that John Frusciante was once again exiting the Red Hot Chili Peppers, fans had potential call for concern. After all, the first time Frusciante left the group in ’92, it resulted in the then-longest delay between studio albums for the group, as well as several guitarists coming and going, before the band formed a one-off album union with guitarist Dave Navarro and made the most controversial album of their career, 1995’s One Hot Minute.
But doubters’ fears were silenced But doubters’ fears were silenced when the band’s first album with guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, 2011’s I’m With You, dropped. Lead-off track, Monarchy Of Roses, juxtaposes one of the most tribal grooves the Chilis have ever committed to record with a ‘sunny’ disco complexion.
The verse has a real gritty Iommi sound, with the ascending minor 3rd calling up Iron Man then ringing on the b5, just like Black Sabbath, while Josh uses partial chords and 16th note rhythms for the light, bright disco chorus, which is pure Nile Rodgers. So how do you go from Black Sabbath to Chic? According to Klinghoffer, the contrasting parts were planned ahead of time.
“That song is the only song that really was born out of a conversation rather than anything to do with music or musical instruments,” Josh told Total Guitar in 2012. “Flea and I – before I started playing with the band – got in the habit of going on morning hikes in the summer of ’09, and just talking and getting to know each other more. Although we’ve known each other for 10-plus years, we hadn’t really spent any concentrated time together.
"So we were just hanging out more, talking about music, and we thought it would be a great juxtaposition to have a sort of Sabbath-y riff, a really heavy ‘dun-duh-duh-dun’ kind of thing, and then break into a joyous disco chorus. So we talked about that, and kept that model in our minds when we got into the writing room. Monarchy Of Roses was the result.”
It was a good start, but the song went through a transformation between its original structure and the version that ended up on the album. “[Producer] Rick Rubin was really involved in the arranging process with the Chili Peppers, so he and Anthony [Kiedis] helped edit it down to a nice, concise pop-length and form,” Josh told Total Guitar. “That’s an example of band members and writers of the song hearing it differently.
"I always heard it more how it wound up being, and the ‘dun-duh-duh-dun’ Sabbath-y part being the verse. But Anthony never really heard it that way. He always heard it as a really sparse musical intro kind of thing. It took him a minute, and then he came up with the melody for that a little later… It took a little back and forth, tug of war with that, but with Rick Rubin’s help, it made it as it is now – and everyone loves that song.”
Despite Josh being “the new guy on the block”, the band made it quite clear that they had full trust in their new guitarist’s playing and songwriting skills during the song’s creation.
“We were looking for the very end of the song, the outro bridge, and Flea said, ‘I think Josh should write it right now!’ and he pointed at me. I just threw those chords out and didn’t think about it. That was a wonderful day at rehearsal, because it just showed me they have complete trust in me, and they respect my ear and my writing and my ability to hear a song. They’ll follow me if I have an idea or thought.”
There’s a similar theme to that opening feedback in the bridge, but while it’s a melody on record, Josh lets rip onstage, bashing his guitar and improvising another ‘noise’ section for the crowd.
Monarchy Of Roses doesn’t just demonstrate Josh’s guitar suitability to the Chilis, then, it also signifies a real connection with the band and their sound.
He concludes: “If you count backwards, like I said, to those conversations while we were hiking in California, it’s kind of the beginning of the I’m With You journey. It’s great that it starts the record.”