The Peppers Are Still Driving the Speed Limit -- They're Just Doing More of It
The following is a message from The Society of Music Fans for the Elimination of Double-Disc Releases.
Hello. My name is Jeff. Not only am I the president of TSOMFFTEODDR, I’m also a member. And I’m here today to talk to you about a crisis that’s been looming over the industry ever since music was invented back in 1947: pointlessly over-inflated double-disc releases. All-you-can-eat-buffets that someone has revisited one too many times. Gratuitous opuses whose bone structures aren’t developed enough to support their own heft. Self-indulgent jams where the guy who said “No” was quickly shown the door.
No, this is not a new problem. We’ve sent letters to Bruce Springsteen. Guns N’ Roses. The Insane Clown Posse (which was hard, because they cannot read). A couple years back we had to briefly abduct Nelly until he promised never to pull that Sweat/Suit thing again. We’ve got Shania Twain on the speed-dial, and our ambassadors were in fairly constant contact with her after she released those 37 themed versions of Up!. Our logo, as you probably know, is a giant red-tinted mug shot of a grinning Ryan Adams. We’re extremely serious people.
And now, in summer of 2006, we are forced to consider the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose monolithic Stadium Arcadium is being pitched as the middle-aged funketeers’ return to the huge, bombastic, dare-we-say-it stadium-ready roots that propelled the band into stratospheric heights they could not have possibly expected when they were just wee lads lapping up mother’s milk. It’s their All That You Can’t Leave Behind, their “remember-how-we-used-to-roll?” record. And it’s clear that this has been the plan since Day 1—these are big ol’ songs with big ol’ things to prove, particularly the single “Dani California”, and parts of disc 2, which is called “Jupiter”, I think. Or “Mars”. Frankly, it’s hard to remember.
Why? Because as laudable as those ambitions may be, they make for magnificently redundant listening over this needlessly long 28-song (!) set, especially when you consider that the Chili Peppers’ returns, like those of the Democrats and the Atlanta Braves, have been steadily diminishing since the mid-‘90s. The bulk of material here, particularly the sleepier-sounding first disc, serves as further proof that the Peppers have fully completed their transition from sock-rocking party-funkers to triple-A balladeers, albeit with an enviable level of still-percolating success.
Don’t get us wrong—we’re not advocating a return to the naked zaniness of Freaky Styley from this group of finely aged fortysomethings, because that would be mortifying. But this record is coasting on gas—goofy scatting, soft-rock verse, big chorus, repeat. “Desecration Smile”, for all its lush production, crashing-in chorus, and “la la la” background vocals, sounds surprisingly sleepy. Songs like “So Much I” scream B-side in their first few minutes. Even “Turn It Again”, which wakes up with a loony effects-laden John Frusciante solo halfway through, feels like an obligation.
New ideas do pop up occasionally, but hardly with the frequency that would demand a double-disc release. “Dani California”, the first single, is hooky and effervescent and the band’s 500th song about its home state. “Hump De Bump” works up a decent lather, but as good as it’ll probably sound on tour, it’s nothing they haven’t done before (“Storm in a Teacup”, meanwhile, is, for instance, its easily expendable cousin). “She’s Only 18” is dirty enough, but comes off as a half-cooked retread of “Sir Psycho Sexy”. Frankly, over two discs, Anthony Kiedis’ mono-drone and ludicrous lyrics (would you believe they saved a song called “Death of a Martian” for your song-28 payoff?) lapse into self-parody quicker than ever, and as effective as Flea’s all-but-perfected groove and Frusciante’s welcome and perverse guitar are, it’s hard to remember them when your iPod goes on to the next album. After, like, two and a half hours.
As is often the case with such lengthy meals, Stadium Arcadium is perfectly capable and occasionally ingratiating, but whatever goodwill it musters up is trounced by its redundancy (and the rather juiceless production by Rick Rubin—he wriggled more sonic power out of the Dixie Chicks). And with outlets like iTunes providing the ability to offer B-sides, outtakes, European-only 5.1-mix rare remix bootlegs and whatnot, there’s plenty of other ways to get the lesser material out there. As we here at TSOMFFTEODDR have argued for years, save them for the inevitable housecleaning box set.