As one of apparently just a handful of listeners who have never before been persuaded that the Red Hot Chili Peppers' standing is a completely accurate reflection of their worth, I have to admit to being knocked sideways by Stadium Arcadium, the most diverse and impressive work of their entire career.
The recording sessions at Rick Rubin's studio in the Hollywood Hills - the same place they made their breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik album 15 years ago - proved so fruitful that the band considered releasing all the material as a trio of albums, staggered over the course of a year. Ultimately, judicious pruning left them with Stadium Arcadium, a colossal double album of 28 tracks, presented as individual discs named Mars and Jupiter.
Jupiter contains the most condensed sequence of pop-rock potency they've ever come up with, a series of infectious, animated workouts which opens with the single "Dani California" and never lets up, the melodic momentum carrying well into the Mars disc. Scattered liberally throughout the two discs, guitarist John Frusciante's fills and solos are quite breathtaking in their skill and diversity, from the Hendrix-esque psychedelic shower that caps the pared-down progress of "Dani California", through to the soaring break that concludes "Wet Sand", which recalls Duane Allman's euphoric contribution to "Layla".
The familiar punk-funk grooves such as "Hump de Bump" and "Charlie" provide the spine of the album, with Frusciante's staccato guitar scratching against Flea's rubbery bass. Elsewhere, what sounds like a subtle woodwind harmony to the riff of "Snow (Hey Oh)" lends the song a powerful, stadium-sized poignancy, without suffering any loss of its sleek muscularity.
Lyrically, there are the usual bewitched musings upon the state of California (in both senses), while a shamanic animal-spirit theme underlies songs such as "Slow Cheetah", "Animal Bar" and "Especially in Michigan", where Anthony Kiedis senses "lions and tigers come running just to steal your love". And were I not well aware of their new cleaned-up, tofu-tastic lifestyle, I'd be tempted to read drug metaphors into both "Charlie" and "Snow (Hey Oh)". Perish the thought!
It's by no means a completely perfect collection - the horns on "Torture Me" sound nasty and synthetic, for one - but it would be churlish not to acknowledge the depth and range of the Chili Peppers' work here. With Stadium Arcadium, they've made not just the definitive record of their career, but one of the definitive American rock albums of the past three decades.
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