Photo Credit: Clara Balzary
Their last album was entitled Unlimited Love, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers seemed determined to show their fans exactly that (the feeling with the public appears to be mutual, as that album went Top 5 in twenty-five countries). Less than seven months after the release of that album we now get yet another collection of all-original material, Return of the Dream Canteen. As with Unlimited Love, this new release is certainly no short-change, being a rather lengthy affair of seventeen tracks (all this and the band also staged a major tour over the past year). Although the cover artwork – and even the title – of Return of the Dream Canteen might suggest a move towards a late ’60s psychedelic influence, the Chili Peppers go right into their trademark style of funk on the opening cut “Tippa My Tongue,” which includes longtime frontman Anthony Kiedis doing his unique style of rapping as well as yet another flawless funk bassline courtesy of Michael “Flea” Balzary, still probably the most influential rock bassist of the past four decades (at least).
However, the ’60s influence suggested by the packaging does turn up on a few tracks, including just the right title of “Peace and Love,” as well as some hint of the late-period Beatles on “Shoot Me a Smile.” But it’s a surprisingly unexpected presence that dominates two of the album’s best tracks. “Reach Out” is a flat-out Chili Peppers rocker, complete with a killer chorus as well backing vocals reminiscent of classic Van Halen. Then, “Eddie” is a poignant but salty tribute to Eddie Van Halen, sung from the perspective of the late guitar god himself (“Smoking the reefer, feeling my own light // My brother’s keeper, I married a TV wife… // Please don’t remember me for what I did last night // I guess I played a flying V”).
The lyrical subject matter gets a little less concise – and definitely more WTF? – in “My Cigarette” (“Nat King Cole and Dick Van Patten // New York Dolls all dressed in satin”). A number of the songs also have a bit of a schizophrenic nature, starting out with one particular sound and ending up with another, including “Afterlife” and “Bag of Grins.” On the other hand, “La La La La La La La La” is all sober piano, a la Nine Inch Nails. Mid-tempo album closer “In the Snow” finds Kiedis surprisingly trading in his usually confident rapping for an almost timid-sounding spoken word.
As mentioned, the cover artwork on the album is clearly meant as an homage to that of the late-’60s and early-’70s works such as the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach. While the Chili Peppers have by no means turned into a jam band, Dream Canteen does emphasize that after four decades they possess the level of musicianship that has always been more closely associated with bands who tend to be rather stoic during live performances, not those that are known for putting on the type of show where they jump all over the stage constantly, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers (even if age has slowed them down, just marginally, by this point).
At the same time, like their last release Unlimited Love, Dream Canteen clocks in about an hour and fifteen minutes. With their 1991 breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magick the Chili Peppers took full advantage of potential CD length, seemingly placing virtually everything they had recorded at the time out rather than adhering to the longstanding practice of weeding through the material for the best ten or twelve songs and then relegating the lesser tracks to b-sides, future movie soundtracks or even an indefinite stay in the vault. Strictly speaking, there isn’t a bad song on Dream Canteen, but it still might serve as another example of the Chili Peppers giving us too much of a good thing all at once.