The Red Hot Chili Peppers had a formula: a funk-bred rhythm section, the showy, psychedelic guitar showcase in guitar wunderkind John Frusciante and the vocal help of Anthony Kiedis, who straddled the line of troubled '90s rock star and West Coast party boy. That mixture created one of the most successful rock groups of the past 20 years, with albums such as "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" and "Californication" blending commercial success with alt-rock pathos.
The band's 10th and latest release, "I'm with You," finds the group feeling around, rather successfully, for a new sound. The alchemy involved in this is formidable, revealing the group to actually be chocked full of talented individual musicians, notably the rhythm section of bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith. Together they whip up a stormy funk-rock hybrid that drives much of the sound here. Appropriately, many of the album's best moments are funky workouts, like the over caffeinated "Ethiopia" and breathless "Look Around" gyrating around energetically, leaving Kiedis little word in edgewise.
That's not necessarily a bad thing - the frontman's songwriting has always been inconsistent (rhyming "cheeky" and "Mozambique-y" is good for a laugh, though). Newcomer Josh Klinghoffer (the replacement guitarist after Frusciante's departure in 2009) fares much better, however.
Replacing the showy and fiery solos of his predecessor is no mean task, but Klinghoffer replaces this with texture and nuance. Little moments are his specialty. His lovely, rippling touches add gravitas to the otherwise bombastic arrangement (complete with a trumpet solo) of "Did I Let You Know" and his understated coda in "Meet Me At the Corner" makes the throwaway worthwhile.
All these elements create the album's best track, "Brendan's Death Song." In the vein of "Under the Bridge" and "Snow," it's a Chili specialty, the big power ballad. Inspired by the death of club owner and friend Brendan Mullen, Kiedis reins in his vocal performance, and the band obliges his restraint by offering a slowly building and truly moving ode to death with subtlety and warmth, proving the band can still balance sensitivity with stadium ambitions. The same can be said for "I'm with You." The Red Hot Chili Peppers prove reinvention can be made without sacrificing accessibility, and if they can create work like this surprisingly vital release consistently into the future, audiences will certainly be with them.