The big worry for Red Hot Chili Peppers fans leading into “I’m With You,” their 10th album, was whether new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer could possibly measure up to the legacy of departed axeman John Frusciante, who’d been with the Chili Peppers for most of their career and all their most popular recordings.
Actually, Klinghoffer has no problem fitting in, despite, at 31, being about 17 or 18 years the junior of the other three members. If anything, the problem is that the young addition isn’t featured nearly enough, since his all too infrequent, all too fleeting solos are the reddest and hottest thing about the under-baked “I’m With You.”
Other members have described the newcomer’s guitar work as “subtler” than that of predecessors Frusciante and Dave Navarro, and maybe the fresh recruit needed to be encouraged to come out of his shell more. Or maybe the subtle tag was a self-fulfilling prophecy meant to keep Klinghoffer in his place while they doled him out slowly to suspicious fans.
Whoever's responsible for the reining-in, Klinghoffer is used more for accents than prominent riffs, let alone soloing, and as much as modesty can be a virtue, reticence isn't, at least for this band. You want to nudge Anthony Kiedis out of the way and beg for an instrumental freakout in lieu of that superfluous third or fourth chorus.
If there's a glass-half-full take on "I'm With You," it involves wonderment that the album works as well as it does, given the high mortality rate for bands that have been around since the 1980s.
A couple of the best numbers prove the Chili Peppers can straighten out their herky-jerky rhythms enough to produce a nearly straightforward dance track, starting with the terrific opener, “Monarchy of Roses,” which transforms itself from near-psychedelia into sheer, shimmering disco every time the chorus comes around. The equally charming “Look Around” ups the dance ante with actual, bona fide handclaps while making greater use of the crew's trademark funk.
“Did I Let You Know” offers Klinghoffer’s best solo — think George Harrison on steroids, and possibly other stimulants — while adding an unexpected trumpet to the tropically flavored mix. The fun renders lyrical groaners like “I want to get lean on you/Get Jan and Dean on you” and “I like you cheeky/So Mozambique-y” nearly forgivable.
“Happiness Loves Company” is pure, piano-fueled power pop… and has Kiedis inexplicably name-checking the Mothers of Invention, even though it’s the Monkees or Turtles that come to mind. In contrast, “Goodbye Hooray,” the punkiest number, is the one rocker to make effective use of the new guitarist throughout — not just for textures and interjections, but as part of the central riff, a prominent duty more often left solely to bassist Flea.
Other tracks get more frustrating, like “Etheopia,” where a potentially great Klinghoffer jam is cut short so we can hear Kiedis sing yet another chorus of “E-I-O-I-E-I-A,” in apparent homage to the farmer in the dell.
Next album, when it comes time to determine how stingy to be with the new guitarist’s talent: Give it away, give it away, boys.