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Disc of the week: The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Universal Music

I'm With You Red Hot Chili Peppers (Warner)

Does rhyming "cheeky" with "Mozambiquey" count as being playful? Because I'd read that the first album in five years from the Red Hot Chili Peppers was written and recorded by a rejuvenated band in a mischievous mood. Does bringing in guest percussionists Mauro Refosco (of Brazilian descent) and Lenny Castro (Puerto Rican background) qualify as adventurous? Because I'd also heard that the onetime uplifting mofo party-planners were looking to get risky.

I'm not sure I have the answers to my questions. And I'm not sure the Peppers sound as refreshed – "this is a beginning," singer Anthony Kiedis told Rolling Stone magazine – as they claim to be. Sort-of new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer replaces John Frusciante, and though he fits in nicely when given room he's not a game changer. There's not a lot of oomph or pizzazz here. Nothing jumps out at you, no matter how many times Flea pops his bass or Kiedis spits out his occasional (uninspired) raps. The hippie-funk energy of 2006's Stadium Arcadium is not repeated, which is fine – no one expected more of that. In it's place, though, there is little that is remarkable.

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Which isn't to say there aren't tracks worthy of your 99 cents. Annie Wants a Baby starts with a gloomy Nirvana-ish kind of bass line – Come As You Are, specifically – and slips in some bluesy guitar strips. Klinghoffer adds numerous appealing textures as the hazy rocker moves forward and, yeah, that does sound an awful like the Beach Boys on the background vocals at the 2:44 mark. The album, as it turns out, was recorded at the Beach Boy guitarist Al Jardine's studio in Big Sur, Calif.

Any Chili Pepper ballad fans out there? My hand is raised. Police Station has easygoing verses, about seeing a drifting woman in different places – at a precinct, at a television station, in a churchyard. Producer Rick Rubin, working with his fellow Californians for the fifth time, possibly suggested the lovely backing vocals. You wouldn't be alone if the chorus reminded you of something off the Who's Tommy. The song closes with menacing guitar noises over a lovely piano bit from Greg Kurstin.

Brendan's Death Song is a thoughtful acoustic tribute to a friend who passed – "and when you hear this, you'll know it's your jam, it's your goodbye." The song's middle is a bigger, brooding breakout that comes out of nowhere. It works, but the song overstays its welcome.

Happiness Loves Company is bouncy pop, with some "bop-bop" business going on in the background. Did I Let You Know sounds like Debarge, not de Peppers. There's a trumpet fill and steel drums too – the rhythm of the night, apparently.

This isn't the group's best record, not by a long shot. But it's not for lack of trying. One suspects there are more albums to come, and that we haven't heard the last of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform I'm With You in its entirety followed by greatest hits at a concert in Cologne, Germany, on Aug. 30, to be broadcast later that day internationally, including 75 Cineplex Odeon screens in Canada.


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Mirror Traffic Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (Matador) 3 stars

Stephen Malkmus couldn't carry a tune, even if you gave him Burt Bacharach's briefcase with which to do it. But on his fifth post-Pavement album, his wordplay makes you grin, and his unpredictable song-craft is a joy to hear. No One is (As I Are Be) sounds an awful lot like Beck, the disc's producer, though the line "sit-ups are so bourgeoisie / I'm busy hanging out, spending all your money" is all Malkmus. As is the sardonic, power-popped Senator, those Washington office-holders who want only what Monica Lewinsky can give them. Some of Malkmus's jammy blues are deadened gratefully, and there is a indifferently assured air to his guitar work in general. The sound is clear; everything is heard and understood, making his pitchy singing irrelevant (almost). Brad Wheeler

Willie Dixon God Damn! Bocephus King (Tonic) 3 stars

Depending how you tune the strings, a guitar can take you to heaven or hell. On his fifth album, Vancouver's Bocephus King (aka Jamie Perry) finds that those destinations are not far apart, no more than a breath sometimes. His music flies between them with evident craft but no habitual route, veering down the dusty roads of country blues, through sinister alleys of vaguely Latin atmosphere, and across aromatic plains that might be in India or the Middle East. Beautiful losers are his special concern – one song is about Beat hero Neal Cassady – and the personal often bleeds freely into the mythological. King's big warm voice, invasive lyrics, shapely melodies and high-class colleagues (including Charlie Hase on pedal steel, Rick Bracken on harmonica and Steve Dawson on vintage Weissenborn guitar) keep this fearless album running wild on all roads. Robert Everett-Green

Obscurities Stephin Merritt (Merge) 2.5 stars

Only nine of these 14 tracks are obscurities, culled from vinyl singles, side projects and the like; the rest are leftovers, tracks unreleased until now, including three songs from an unfinished sci-fi musical written with Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler. That may be enough for completists, but anyone else will want to consider the collection track-by-track. Still, Merritt's songwriting skill and stylistic flexibility ensures that there are a gems glittering among the dross, among them the raucous punk disco of Rats in the Garbage of the Western World, the bittersweet folkie twang of Plant White Roses, and the synth-pop whimsy of Take Ecstasy with Me. Definitely worth cherry-picking. J.D. Considine

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The R.E.D. Album The Game (DGC/Interscope/Universal) 2 stars

The Game was rap's first superstar rookie, endorsed by 50 Cent and Dr. Dre in 2005 as the next big thing. More recently, the West Coast MC has proven to be less Lebron James, more Allen Iverson, lashing out at critics and former confidantes. On T he R.E.D. Album, Game's rhymes, like the hard-hitting G-funk of the production, are still enticingly aggressive. But neither Fiddy nor Dre are affiliated with Game any more, though Dre "narrates" the interludes – a crucial endorsement when Game tries so hard to place himself among the greats that on songs like Born in the Trap he almost seems to be suffering from rap-trivia Tourette's. Rappers can get away with a lot of things, but being graspingly insecure isn't one of them. Dave Morris

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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