Earlier this year, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released Unlimited Love. With it came a global stadium tour and a clear statement that the band had new energy and fresh ideas. Now, they’ve come back with another album, Return of the Dream Canteen, a hearty second helping of this same sentiment seen just seven months prior. The past three years mark a major shift for the group, a grand return to their ‘90s and ‘00s sound. At the center of this sonic shift was guitarist John Frusciante’s return to the band, having left after the group’s long tour for the 2006 Stadium Arcadium album. Despite releasing two albums in Frusciante’s absence, Stadium Arcadium really was the last truly Pepper-y album.
Return of the Dream Canteen once again highlights Frusciante’s immense contribution to the overall cohesion of the music. His guitar style is percussive—check out “Reach Out” and “Bella.” Frusciante locks into Flea’s bass and Chad Smith’s drums, thumping along with the chunky, funk-driven Red Hot Chili Peppers aura. At the same time, tracks like “Eddie” and “Carry Me Home” underscore his melodicism and his care for the overall production. Frusciante possesses the underrated willingness not to over or underplay; instead, he uses his individual skill deliberately, looking more for the complete piece than dazzling displays of his virtuosity.
In expected Flea form, the rhythmic foundation of his bass phrasing binds the Peppers together. To some extent, Flea’s playing hasn’t really innovated on his past showings, and yet his playing continues to impress, not only for its raw, almost effortless consistency but also for his melodic line choices. While tying himself closely to Chad Smith and maintaining the rhythmic order of the album, his bass licks also swing with the melodic choices of Frusciante, the two enmeshed in an almost dual-lead order. I would venture to say that it was this pairing that was so very missed in the past 12 or so Frusciante-less years.
At the vocal end of the record, Anthony Keidis remains true to his prior Peppers album showings. The staunchest Peppers-haters regularly turn to Keidis for their disdain, critical of his vocals that they say come off as bumbling, substanceless babblings. In fairness, Keidis’s vocals aren’t the strongest point of the album’s musicianship––but his vocals still swing with the psychedelic, funky RHCP image. They remain grounded by Frusciante and Flea and slot in with the complete group. Indeed, Keidis demonstrates what might be the most impressive characteristic of the Red Hot Chili Peppers: the band as a whole is incredibly tight and interconnected. Without the complete quartet, their production lacks its edge.
Like the earlier Unlimited Love, Return of the Dream Canteen is a whopping 75 minutes––a double-length album. On top of that, the two albums have the same exact energy and sound, each more closely bound to the other than to any other Red Hot Chili Peppers release; the two likely came out of the same writing sessions, riding the high of Frusciante’s return. The sound-alike quality does prompt a side question regarding release philosophy. Stadium Arcadium was an impressive two hours and 30 minutes, a pair of double-length albums together as a double feature––why not do the same with Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen? Was the first album rushed? Was the second album scraps and leftovers? It’s hard to be mad at a healthy second helping of solid funk rock, but it is curious to see a group––which, in the past, was comfortable with and willing to drop an enormous release––now balk and break what would be a cohesive double-length double album into two.
Regardless, Return of the Dream Canteen, whether sloppy seconds or a savory second round, is a strong showing for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a nostalgic return to the golden age of the band’s 40-year musical odyssey. Check out Return of the Dream Canteen and other RHCP releases now on all streaming services!