Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ review: an overwhelming feast

Red Hot Chili Peppers. Credit: Clara Balzary

Red Hot Chili Peppers have always believed that more is more. The majority of their records clock in at over an hour while live, the group love to extend their greatest hits via freeform jams. Released earlier this year, the 17-track ‘Unlimited Love’ saw Red Hot Chili Peppers use that extra space to show off a renewed energy following the return of on-again, off-again guitarist John Frusciante.

New album ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ contains another 17-tracks, from the same Rick Rubin-produced sessions. Yup, “two double albums released back to back,” explained the band in a statement. “The second of which is easily as meaningful as the first or should that be reversed. ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ is everything we are and ever dreamed of being. It’s packed.”

Before it was confirmed, Anthony Kiedis told NME: “Don’t be surprised if another wheelbarrow of songs comes your way in the near future. We have a lot of shit to turn people onto.” True to their word, ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ is a lot. Too much, often.

The 75-minute album starts with the pop-punk inspired single ‘Tippa My Tongue’ that begins like Blink-182 but quickly descends into a strutting funk acid-trip while the urgency that made ‘Unlimited Love’ such a joyous listen returns on the snotty yet explosive ‘Bag Of Grins’ and the hammering, riff-driven ‘Reach Out’. “Please don’t seize me until you get my joke,” sings Kiedis as the Chilis continue to have the most fun possible. So far, so good.

Elsewhere ‘Peace & Love’ treads carefully as the band do away with metaphor and preach “peace and love, somehow”. It’s perhaps the most direct the band have ever been. That bleak reality continues with ‘Fake As Fuck’, with Kiedis singing “I read the news, it’s all gone wrong, the facts of life serving up doom and gloom / I’m never going to leave my room” before the indie-inspired track does its best to offer giddy joy via jangly guitars. Meanwhile the illusion of the dreamy close of ‘In The Snow’ is shattered by Kiedis “checking my stupid phone” before bursts of spoken word poetry, as atmospheric alt-rock meets post-punk. Throughout the record, their usual escapism is weighed down by the real world.

‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ also sees the band get experimental on the electro ‘My Cigarette’, an ‘80s-inspired pop ode to smoking that sounds unlike anything the band have ever done before, complete with a jazzy outro. Likewise, the tightly-wound ‘Shoot Me A Smile’ veers towards indie-folk while ‘The Drummer’ is a jaunty new-wave track that echoes A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ and isn’t afraid of a little flamboyance.

However, there are far too many meandering, mid-tempo tracks on ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’. Once you’ve heard the wonky jazz of ‘Bella’, the rumbling rock of ‘Roulette’ and the messy chaos of ‘Afterlife’, a frantic breakdown can’t make ‘Copperbelly’ feel new. Even ‘Eddie’, a heartfelt ode to Eddie Van Halen, borrows the iconic intro to their own ‘By The Way’ before five-minutes you’ve definitely heard before.

Lyrically, ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ treads a similar path as ‘Unlimited Love’. In amongst Kiedis’ usual poetic nonsense (“Jumping Jiminy the cat is in the chimney”), he speaks of death and nostalgia.

The record is littered with references to the ‘70s and ‘80s with the likes of BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers and comedy duo Cheech & Chong getting name-dropped. He sings, “You got your way and it seems I’ve got mine, both going to die at the very same time” on ‘Carry Me Home’ before a scowling guitar riff. “Stick with me girlfriend, I don’t want to be here alone,” he continues, very much afraid of the future. Elsewhere the stripped back electro-ambience of ‘La La La La La La La La’ sees Kiedis sing “I’ll fuck up and get so mad, act just like my broken dad,” as the usual songs of lust are replaced by romance and responsibility.

The reflective ‘Handful’ also sees the typically-aloof frontman giving himself a long, hard look in the mirror. “There’s a chapter in my book I don’t want you to read, there’s a chapter in my life where I failed to succeed’, he sings over subdued, dreamy guitar lines.

Buried in the sprawling ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’, there’s a progressive album that sees the legendary California rockers taking risks, breaking new ground and engaging in the world around them. The band have never been ones for brevity though, and this album is an almighty slog, one where the vibrant new is weighed down with a lot of the same old tricks. For all glimpses of bold musical and lyrical steps forward, they remain largely the same band they’ve always been with ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’ offering an all-you-can-eat buffet that often feels overwhelming.


Red Hot Chili Peppers - 'Return Of The Dream Canteen' artwork
  • Release date: October 14, 2022
  • Record label: Warner Records

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