Firmly ensconced in the upper echelon of modern rock stardom, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have now set upon securing a spot in the pantheon. How else to explain the release—23 years into their career—of Stadium Arcadium, a 28-track, double-disc behemoth? Promo materials chalk it up to the California quartet’s inability to orphan an album’s worth of tunes, but in the iPod era, when the notion of album as artifact is both faded and fading, Stadium‘s mere appearance, its sheer bulk, suggests nothing so much as a self-conscious attempt at producing a “classic.” Unfortunately, the music doesn’t quite live up to its packaging. Neither disjointed embarrassment of riches à la The Beatles nor conceptual magnum opus like The Wall, Stadium Arcadium is two hours of sometimes middling, sometimes masterful, mostly pleasurable mainstream rock. It may not be the classic the band was aiming for, but with no masterworks on the horizon, you could do worse than ride out the end of spring with a double dose of well-executed radio fodder.
Radio’s the key. On 1991’s smash “Under the Bridge,” the band cottoned to to the fact that melody, not metal-punk funkifizing, makes hits happen. Since then, the Chili Peppers have altered course to the extent that they now sound weakest when trying to kick out the jams. Stadium‘s rump-shakers (“Hump de Bump,” “Storm in a Teacup”) come across as forced—sounding less like the work of a funky band than a band playing at being funky. More satisfying are the album’s dozen or so painstakingly produced and melody-driven midtempo tracks. Case in point: “Wet Sand,” where Anthony Kiedis’s warm vocal (and usual lyrical nonsense) bobs and weaves around John Frusciante’s painterly guitar until they both give way to a kaleidoscopic harpsichord cadenza. Yeoman’s work has rarely sounded this good.
The Chilis have never been firebrands or visionaries—nor does anything on Stadium suggest they ever will be. But since 1999’s Californication, they’ve proven to be among our most reliable purveyors of mass appeal rock ‘n’ roll—a Bon Jovi or Def Leppard (in function, if not form) for the post-Clinton era. It may not have been the band’s intention, but Stadium Arcadium is ultimately closer kin to Hysteria than London Calling. And while the album isn’t likely to start any revolutions, it’s just about perfect for a backyard barbecue. And that’s nothing to scoff at.