While Blood Sugar Sex Magic had some (I'd say 3) great songs, it's funky-monk overtones make it sound dated, recorded as John Frusciante say's "back when we were assholes". The Dave Navarro version of the band obviously sucked, but after Frusciante kicked his drug habit and crawled back to the Red Hot Chili Peppers things really started to take off. Californication had some great tracks, but was quickly overshadowed by version 2.0 - By The Way. Frusciante had found his sound, releasing the awesome solo albums To Record Only Water For Ten Days and Shadows Collide With People and clearly shaping the direction of the revitalised Chili Peppers. After another 6(!) solo albums from Frusciante last year - all peppered with great tracks - the promise of a new full-spec double RHCP album was good.
Things kick off well with single Dani California. Using all the best elements of the RHCP signature sound - catchy, stripped down, funky bass, roaring guitar solo - it sets the pace.... and the rest of the album carries on from there. All the same. Every song is good, most contain a bit of all of their styles and all are in the 3-5 minutes / 3.5-4.5 star range - and that is where the problem lies. While the album is apparently 'based' on the planets (Disc 1 Jupiter, Disc 2 Mars) there is no obvious theme or progression over the album and not much difference between the two discs. It becomes totally homogenized and just seems like a collection of 28 randomly sequenced good songs.
Torture Me is not one of the best, but it stands out for merely being a bit more punky. Strip My Mind threatens to be like a Frusciante solo track - but ends up being not as brave and falling back into line. Even the bass-funk workout tracks pull their socks up to be not nearly as bad as some of the 90's era stuff. The excellent Desecretion Smile and Animal Bar have so far floated to the top of the pile, although I'm sure more will grow on me if I give it time. 28 tracks is a lot of time though, and in the age of CD a double album is more like 120 minutes than The White Album's 90. The lyrics also take the score down a notch, as the band have never been that deep, and that doesn't change here. There's plenty of lyrics of the horny-coyotes-prowling-around-michigan variety.
Time will tell whether this becomes a sprawling masterpiece or self-indulgant monolith, but for a band who should have been at the peak of their powers it currently seems that they are on more of a plateau.
UPDATE: As of August 9th '06 I'm updating this to a 4. It's 80% genius, and the finale of Snow (Hey Oh) and Frusciante's scream at the end of Wet Sand are worth the price alone. It's only losing points for the length and lack of sequence, but is undoubtedly the closest thing to their masterpiece (to date).