“Someone has to come and teach me self-control,” sings Anthony Keidis towards the end of the ear-melting jazz-funk odyssey, “Aquatic Mouth Dance”. It’s the third of an exhausting 17 tracks on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 12th album, which promises Unlimited Love but instead delivers unlimited noodling. I’ve used the term “noodling” for years, but never has music reminded me so viscerally of soft, bland carbs being squirted relentlessly into looping strings and flopping lifelessly on to a kitchen counter. The effect is mostly caused by bass lines from Flea that feel less played than extruded. But Keidis’s free-associating lyrics, paired with returning guitarist John Frusciante’s headless-chicken riffing, add scant sauce to this droopy dish.
For the first time since 2014, the Los Angelean groovesters have reunited with producer Rick Rubin, who first dangled his beard over the mixing desk on their 1991 breakthrough album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The record featured era-defining punk-funk hits such as “Under the Bridge” and “Give it Away”; Rubin stuck with them for their following five albums. Interviewed on Chris Jericho’s podcast last year, he said the band’s strength lay in the sheer quantity of songs they write – but admitted that he didn’t necessarily know how to “fix” their mass of material. In this case, he seems to have just hit “record” and let them jam until their batteries ran out. They certainly haven’t recaptured that Nineties energy.
It becomes increasingly hard to separate tracks in the great unspooling of this record. But I’ll do my best: it opens with the nicely sloshing, low-tide guitar riffing of “Black Summer”. The mood is at first so pleasantly sundowners-on-the-beach that you can overlook Keidis’s mellow ramblings about platypuses and cremations. But things get duller as the bass and drums come blundering in. There’s a solid thud and rapper’s rhythm to “Here Ever After”. And that’s when the lid comes off Flea’s toothpaste tube, and he begins squeezing out the thick sludgy jazz of “Aquatic Mouth”, complete with brassy droolings. Slower and slightly proggy, “Not the One” has the most memorable melody on the record, with a dreamy pan pipe of a synth line and a lovely liquid piano part. Keidis even makes a rare effort to tell an actual story, singing: “Give me the love and I’ll tell you when to run.”
But then we’re back to the noodling with “Poster Child”, and Keidis sounding like he’s spent the afternoon finding rhymes for a year’s worth of random Wordle solutions. In a recent interview, he said that while recording Unlimited LoveI have decided that “If [a lyric] came to me, it’s in the song. Next.” This approach was supposedly because he “did not have the luxury of editing or censoring” his words from him. This seems weird for a platinum-selling band, who can probably afford more than a couple of hours of studio time. I suppose the Peppers’ inexplicably loyal fans are used to it by now and will be happy to nod along while Keidis asks: “Would you be my traffic jam? Spirographic anagram…” as he does on “One Way Traffic”.
I suspect they’ll also be happy to headbang along to Frusciante’s circular solo on “Great Apes”, and tap their steering wheels to the easy-going drum patterns of “The Heavy Wing”, designed to mimic “a restless wolverine”. Because if this album has one thing going (on and on) for it, it’s that it’s safely on-brand. It’s just smoother, and slower, and sloppier than before.