Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Return of the Dream Canteen’: Review

Excess has always been part of Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘ game-plan, or at least it’s something in their DNA. From the marathon lengths of their albums – none starting with 1991’s breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik has clocked in at less than 50 minutes; most run more than an hour, including a 2006 double LP – to the lifestyle choices that have resulted in multiple stints in rehab, this is a band that has little idea how to harness all of their energy and testosterone.

It should come as little surprise then that April 2022’s Unlimited Love (their first album in six years, marking the longest gap between Chili Peppers records) wasn’t the end of the chapter. Six months after that 73-minute release, the band and producer Rick Rubin are back with Return of the Dream Canteen, 17 songs in 75 minutes recorded during the same sessions. While this isn’t exactly a sequel to the earlier release, it’s hard not to see Return of the Dream Canteen as anything but a like-minded companion piece.

Unlimited Love arrived as a throwback and nod to the band’s golden era. Rubin returned after a decade’s absence, while guitarist John Frusciante had been away from the band even longer, since 2006. Long on ballads and undoubtedly bloated (but what Red Hot Chili Peppers album isn’t?), Unlimited Love nonetheless is their best album since 2006’s No. 1 Stadium Arcadium.

Return of the Dream Canteen isn’t as good, but stylistically it’s not a whole lot different from its predecessor. The album is heavier on up-tempo songs, though, so the possibility of more elastic, but also novelty-leaning, songs is greater – as evidenced by “Tippa My Tongue,” “Fake as Fuck” and “La La La La La La La La,” to name a few. And just as the annoying “Poster Child” from Unlimited Love name-dropped Duran Duran, Judas Priest and Van Morrison, this album’s “Eddie” pays tribute to late guitar god Eddie Van Halen with hastily assembled lines like “They say I’m from Amsterdam / Does that make me Dutch?” It’s worn nostalgia with no real point.

Better are the tracks built on more sturdy melodic structures – “Peace and Love,” “The Drummer” – and the group’s musical interplay, especially Frusciante’s lyrical leads. (His solo in “Eddie” is a highlight, even if the song isn’t.) Band members have said Return of the Dream Canteen isn’t a leftovers LP, and there are enough fully formed songs here to prove them right. Still, weeding out some of the lesser numbers would have made a tighter album. But doing things halfway isn’t in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ nature.

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Funk rockers have delivered some timeless classics … and a couple of forgettable releases, too.

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