The Red Hot Chili Peppers' eighth studio album finds the California foursome exploring the more melodic freeways of harmony and texture, contrasting the gritty, funky side streets of their early days. Luckily, with this more sophisticated sound, the Peppers have not sacrificed any of their trademark energy or passions for life, universal love, and (of course) lust. Although they recorded the spiky Abbey Road EP in 1988, this album actually sounds a lot closer to the Beatles' Abbey Road, with a little of Pet Sounds and elements of Phil Spector's lushest arrangements all distilled through the band's well-traveled funk-pop stylings. Harmony vocals and string arrangements have replaced some of the aggressive slap bass that the group was initially recognized for, but fans of both the gentle and the fierce Chili Peppers styles will embrace the title track and first single, "By the Way." In fact, this song on its own could almost be a brief history of everything the Red Hot Chili Peppers have recorded: fiery Hollywood funk, gentle harmonies, a little bit of singing about girls, a little bit of hanging out in the streets in the summertime, some rapid-fire raps from Anthony Kiedis, some aggro basslines from Flea -- the song plays like a three-and-a-half-minute audio version of Behind the Music. Overall, the album leans more toward the melodic end of their oeuvre, but they have grown into this kinder, gentler mode organically, progressively working toward this groove little by little, album by album. What once were snapshots of a spastic punk-funk lifestyle have grown into fully realized short stories of introspection and Californication. Though the pace of the album falters at times (particularly in the verses; the choruses are all pretty spectacular), it is refreshing to see that as the four Chili Peppers continue to grow older and more sure of themselves, their composition and performing skills are maturing along with them.
AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson