Listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new hit single, ”Dani California,” and you’ll get a sense of what’s good, bad, and aggravating about Stadium Arcadium, the band’s ninth studio album. The song opens with the Chili Peppers rehashing their funky white-boy shtick, as frontman Anthony Kiedis spits out half-baked slacker rap over a swaggering beat. But then guitar whiz John Frusciante lays down his sledgehammer riffs, Kiedis begins to actually sing the elegiac chorus, the golden harmonies of the bridge kick in, and by the end, you’re blindsided by how great it all sounds.
Just like the single, the two-CD Stadium Arcadium (one inexplicably named ”Mars,” the other ”Jupiter”) has flashes of brilliance and moments of inanity. Think of it as a 122-minute, 28-track encapsulation of the varied musical phases of the quartet’s bumpy 22-year career. There’s the early, sophomoric punky funk, the career-making alterna-ballads, and the unlikely late-’90s revival as mature, tuneful, middle-aged rock stars. Maybe they’re playing it safe by casting such a wide net. But who can blame them? Their last album, 2002’s By the Way, went too far into mellow navel-gazing territory for their party-hearty fans. It moved under 2 million copies?a definite disappointment after 1999’s quintuple-platinum career reboot, Californication, which savvily added textured pop (”Otherside”) to their well-loved mix of moody post-addiction meditations and mosh-pit grooves.
Stadium Arcadium ensures that graying Lollapalooza-era fans, indie teens, and rowdy lunkheads will all be satisfied. Arenas will explode to the Funkadelic-esque ”Readymade” and the psychedelic shredfest ”Turn It Again,” with its orgasmic, multi-tracked guitar coda. Married-with-children Pepperheads can snuggle to the spiritual pop epiphanies (”Stadium Arcadium”) and love songs like ”Hard to Concentrate,” where Kiedis admits that even serial model daters have monogamy envy.
By reaching out to the next generation of testos-terone-fueled party animals, however, the Peppers stumble. Their ’80s frat-rap mode, with its slap-bass diddling and bonehead rhymes (”Warlocks”), lingers like a bad case of mono. It’s not that the James Brownish ”Charlie” is any worse than a sock-era classic like ”Fight Like a Brave” (it might even be better), but to anyone used to the virtuosity of Jay-Z, Kiedis’ clumsy flow sounds as dated as an episode of Small Wonder.
When you try to deliver something for everyone — particularly with a double album — a few missteps are to be expected. (They actually recorded 38 tracks with producer Rick Rubin, so we should be thankful it’s not a triple disc.) In the era of MP3 ripping and burning, is a slightly bloated two-hour disc worth bitching about? Not really. With a few clicks of the mouse, Stadium Arcadium can become the streamlined, near-perfect disc hidden within.