While doubters have questioned the Red Hot Chili Peppers' basic punk-meets-funk concept, no one has ever questioned whether the band could play, particularly in RHCP's current, full-working-order lineup. Guitarist John Frusciante and bassist Flea are masters of their instruments, and they've developed a remarkable chemistry during their on-again, off-again partnership over the years. For pure virtuosity, the double-disc, 28-track Stadium Arcadium may be their finest. But the trouble with virtuosity is that it doesn't always translate into songcraft, and the absence of even one hum-it-on-the-way-home track here raises the old questions again: Does this band even make sense? Are punk energy and funk grooves music's peanut-butter-and-chocolate or its oatmeal-and-sardines? And what's Anthony Kiedis talking about, anyway?
Let's address that last one first: Who knows? Most of the songs seem to be about sex (good), drugs (bad), or the way words that mostly rhyme sound when they're barked at a rapid clip. (For instance, "My disenchanted diplomat / asleep inside the Laundromat," from "C'Mon Girl.") Lyrically, that's pretty much the norm for the Peppers, but where in the past, Kiedis' vocals have given the band's sound its forward momentum, on Stadium Arcadium, they're the least relevant part of the equation.
That leaves Frusciante, Flea, and drummer Chad Smith free to drift dangerously deep into jam-band territory. The songs rarely stretch past the five-minute mark, but they almost never cohere either. What's worse, nobody sounds like they're having much fun, a fatal flaw for party music, even party music as conversant with the dark side of California high life as the Chili Peppers'. When, late in the album, the Peppers let loose with the unapologetically dumb throwback track "Storm In A Teacup," it serves as a refreshing reminder of what they used to be. Good luck getting that far.