All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons
By John Siden
After a very brief break between records, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with their follow-up to Unlimited Love, Return of the Dream Canteen.
According to the band, Return of the Dream Canteen was recorded during the same sessions as Unlimited Love with Rick Rubin behind the boards. Apparently, they laid down 50 songs during this time, and shockingly, all were completed, not left as mere bits and pieces or demos.
I’ll start with the singles and touch on the rest of Return of the Dream Canteen later. Diving in, “Tippa My Tongue ” serves as the lead single with its slightly juvenile “Ya, Ya, Ya” hook; it’s a good track despite its sophomoric chorus. Maybe it will grow on me in time, as it’s got a decent chorus and some appealing guitar work. Party metal fans will recall
“Eddie,” a promotional single, was released second as a tribute to Eddie Van Halen, but oddly the band is not calling it Return of the Dream Canteen’s official second single. Again, I kind of like this; the bass lines and guitar are excellent, and there is what I’ll call a constant guitar presence throughout the song by John Frusciante as opposed to an actual riff. Unsurprisingly, the second half of “Eddie” finds Frusciante flexing his Hendrix worship, soling appealing hard. Kiedis name-checks David Lee Roth in a nice twist, rounding out a solid tribute to the fallen guitar legend.
On to the supposed “official” second single, “The Drummer.” Honestly, it’s alright, but not a standout. And I must say, a song titled “The Drummer” maybe could have featured Chad Smith a little more, right? This one left me scratching my head a bit, to be honest. Singles aside, digging into the chronological track listing, “Peace and Love” follows “Tippa My Tongue.” I did enjoy how “Peace and Love” featured a solid bass line by Flea, but the chorus doesn’t just work for me. It grates after a while and becomes downright annoying by the end of this thing.
After that, thankfully came to a close, “Reach Out” slows things down briefly, but it then picks up, featuring a mid-section that is probably the heaviest portion of Return of the Dream Canteen. Following “Reach Out, “Fake as Fu@k” kicks in, and this one sports an old-school funk groove, which gives the song a semi-nostalgic feel, which I did enjoy. What I didn’t enjoy was “Bella, initially, at least, but I suppose it improves in its latter half. For those keeping score, this seems to be a trend the Chili Peppers seem to be doing a lot of lately.
Shaking off that annoying feeling, I settled in for “Roulette,” and once again, it was just OK. I will also point out that by this point, one thing that stands out to me is that this should not be a 75-minute, 17-track album. This could have easily been a tight 10 or 12-track record and been much better for it. It’s been said before, but the Chili Peppers’ inability to self-edit is glaring. Honestly, Return of the Dream Canteen simply begins to lack variety after “Eddie,” which is problematic given how much music is left after that juncture.
Anyway, “My Cigarette ” is the next song, which might be my least favorite. If you like a song title repeated endlessly for several minutes, this might be the track for you. But I guess the horns at the end of the song almost redeem things. Next is “Afterlife,” and it’s a bit better, with some inspired bass work and a catchier chorus. What’s more, the scatting at the end of the track almost gives “Afterlife” a lounge feel, which was fun.
Unfortunately, just when the Chili Peppers caught my attention, “Shoot Me a Smile” kicks in, and it’s another iffy at best track, which, once again, slightly improves later. Then again, it could just be that I’ve settled in and gotten used to its uninspired nature. With that in mind, shockingly, “Handful” is a breath of fresh air. It has a unique feel compared to the rest, is more subtle, and features a great chorus. And, to top it off, John Frusciante lays down quality work in the latter stages of the track. I’d call it a highlight.
As mentioned earlier, “The Drummer” is next and, as mentioned, is the proper second single. I won’t re-hash my thoughts on this, but just know it’s disappointing and odd to boot. So, we move on to “Bag of Grins,” which has a nice, big chorus, aka the only part I remotely like. Next, we get “LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLa,” which is just awful. I mean, really? Is it the best title the Red Hot Chili Peppers could think of? With that being said, the song itself is sort of a lovely ballad. The balladry is a refreshing change, but the title does not get a pass and is downright ridiculous.
Rounding this out, we’ve got “Copperbelly,” another generic track with a solid Frusciante solo. And finally, Return of the Dream Canteen comes to a close, ending on a positive note with the penultimate track, “Carry Me Home,” a bluesy, funky number. Lastly, “In The Snow” is pretty, almost like a lullaby. I often found myself lamenting the derivative nature of many of the tracks, but when I heard this one, I wished they had tried more experiments like this. But I guess it’s a good way to close out the record.
There you have it; we have made it through another RHCP double album. Overall, I like this better than Unlimited Love, but not by much, as it suffers from many of the same issues. After listening to this, I felt that Return of the Dream Canteen has a lot of average music that could have but scrapped. It’s clear that the Chili Peppers have once again tried to cover the mediocrity with too much guitar noodling.
While the Chili Peppers have some better ideas here and occasionally execute them well, there are far too many tracks that leave the listener unsatisfied. I like that Frusciante is more restrained, and I also felt that Flea’s bass parts were quite interesting. This one wasn’t for me and might not be for people looking for new and exciting ideas, but listeners who enjoyed Unlimited Love will probably like Return of the Dream Canteen too. But if you struggled with Unlimited Love, Return of the Dream Canteen is only a slight improvement.
In short, I doubt that any of Return of the Dream Canteen’s 17 tracks will stand the test of time, but I suppose we will find out now, won’t we?