In 2006 the Red Hot Chili Peppers released a 28-song double album - out of which they took a relatively large number of singles' - assisted by super-producer Rick Rubin. The former co-founder of Def Jam had also been at the helm of every album that Kiedis, Flea and company had put out collectively since 1991. Expectations for the huge set, which spans over two hours in length, must have been high in the minds of fans, even those unfamiliar with the smash-hit albums Calfornication and Blood Sugar Sex Magik or any of the rock group's other gems, most of which were songs with Rubin at the helm.
Stadium Arcadium followed the success of a compilation called 'Greatest Hits', 2002's 'By the Way' album and their lead singer's autobiography, written with Larry 'Ratso' Sloman and entitled Scar Tissue, not to mention the release of a live DVD and two CDs of more performances. Clearly, either because of the outfit's commercial dominance or despite it, the band was not yet giving up a fight against the threat of becoming irrelevant.
'Dani California', the album's kick-starter, ensured the band remained current without 'selling out' to the industry. There are, as noted in the band's commentary on Stadium Arcadium, echoes of both hip-hop classic Enter the 36 Chambers by Wu-Tang Clan and Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Sweet Home Alabama'. The huge musical chasm that the genre-blending band manage to bridge with the song - though not as obvious as on, say, Run-DMC and Aerosmith's joint version of 'Walk This Way' - is still an impressive testament to the band's long tradition of breaking barriers with skill and wide-reaching appeal.
Track two is 'Snow (Hey Oh)', on which then-guitarist John Frusciante outshines even his esteemed co-creators with an excellent guitar line, the cornerstone of which was said to be inspired by Jimi Hendrix. That main riff would pretty much make the song great by itself but is backed by solid performances from all others involved. The composition's overall feel recalls the prettiness of By The Way tracks such as 'Universally Speaking', while the solo which closes 'Snow.' is simple but effective.
It was never going to be easy to win the battle for consistent quality with such a superb opening twosome of tracks, but in reality 'Charlie' and the title track only seem quite poor because they follow such a grand display. Taken on their own, they are in fact good songs, if simplistic and lacking in meaningful lyrics. 'Hump De Bump' occupies a similar space on the spectrum of quality, but is an improvement on the two tracks before it thanks to a great performance on bass from the most consistent of the album's main players, Flea, who even throws in some welcome contributions on the trumpet.
'She's Only 18' may be the weakest song here - too simple for its own good - but it still has a good chorus that is as musically powerful in its bass-heavy beginning as in its ending where higher-pitched elements come to the fore, not least Frusciante's vocal harmonies. These, arguably underrated in comparison to his playing of the guitar, are often an excellent adornment. They beautifully add colour to many Chili Peppers songs, including the slow-paced soundtrack to introspection, 'Slow Cheetah', which has - like a sunset over a picturesque landscape - an aura of cinematic majesty evoking melancholia, comforting warmth, even a sense of awe.
'Torture Me' is almost as good in terms of its instrumental but one might claim that disc one's track eight could not be much different from 'Slow Cheetah'. Generating an upbeat Mexican feel with its trumpet part over a frantic funk groove, Flea's music shines on yet again. However, Frusciante's guitar playing does not seem as good as usual here: fast, off-the-rails and seemingly just a wall of noise rather than anything really substantial. This problem with the guitar sometimes being underwhelming is also seen elsewhere.
One might argue that at times it is appropriate to hold back on the frenetic guitar, and instead to chill out and turn up the heat only when necessary. This is true, but Frusciante goes too far, it seems, in the other direction here. Take 'Strip My Mind' for example. The chord changes uninteresting and sound a bit clunky in their slow-and-heavy vibe. The solo is worse though due to its messy sound invoking the idea of the guitar wheezing and sneezing in slow motion.
Adding to the feel that resources could have been used more wisely are Kiedis' lyrics, which often miss the mark. This is seen particularly on 'Warlocks', but the excellent backing and Kiedis' own alright delivery make it enjoyable enough, as is also the case on the track's immediate precedent, 'Especially in Michigan'. On 'C'mon Girl', one of the album's greatest songs, the band come together brilliantly, stewing a funk that manages to rock hard and fast while remaining mostly chilled. 'Wet Sand' is beautifully crafted, providing one of Kiedis' most emotive lyrics on the album and a dash of keyboards, something that would also accompany 'Desecration Smile'. The fourteenth song on the first disc, 'Hey' features simple but sublime playing and great lyricism.
Rivalling 'Hey' for brilliance, even in areas of the music that are without too much complexity, is 'Desecration Smile', although -make no mistake, there are enough superb intricacies in that song, such as the piano and bass parts in the composition's bridge section, to make it more complicated and also superior as a whole. 'Tell Me Baby' is also a standout - arguably displaying the finest hour if one were to rate how each individual performance of the main players rated - and the song displays beauty, grace, speed and the ability to rock well and funkily.
'Hard to Concentrate' is stunning in its prettiness, as is the seventh track on disc two 'If'. '21st Century' combines a wonderful chorus - speaking musically as well as lyrically - with rather senseless lyrics in its verses. Another great song, 'She Looks to Me' is all the better for its cohesiveness, but the weak lyrics of 'Readymade' are in sharp contrast to the same song's tireless grooves and its solo: a burst of power. The overly basic 'Make You Feel Better' comes up short when compared to 'Animal Bar', and both pale next to the relentless 'So Much I' in spite of Flea's great performance on both 'Animal Bar' and 'So Much I'. 'Storm in a Teacup' and 'We Believe', though still quite weighty in their own right, are some of the few relatively poor tracks on the album, while 'Turn It Again' is brilliant (especially in its mix, and performance of, multiple solos) and 'Death of a Martian' is very good until its ending. All of this final paragraph demonstrates what a great and vastly colourful but sometimes frustrating journey Stadium Arcadium is, all of its fine musicianship, madness, mediocrity and majesty being held together by the reliable and sometimes excellent drumming of Chad Smith.