If you’re looking at 2002 in terms of musical star-power then you’ll be hard pressed to find too many years that brought with it the same level of impact as 02 did. Eminem, Foo Fighters, Oasis, Coldplay, Killswitch Engage and Korn to name a few, all dropped album releases within this 12 month period – making it fair to say that music was pretty much alive and well.
While most of the aforementioned artists were either about to make their mark on their genre or were about to cement themselves as a figurehead of it, Red Hot Chili Peppers were nearing the 20-year mark since their journey began back in the bright lights of LA in 1983. Only four years removed from the return of guitarist John Frusciante and three removed from Californication, the band’s most successful album – the Chili Peppers were about to take a musical diversion that few could have anticipated years earlier, and less could have foreseen what it would give to their lifespan as a band.
The offset funk tones that had littered through the band’s efforts up to this point, and what had made them such a big name in the industry, to begin with, were in a sense – gone. Giving way to a more melodic tone that brooded more emotion than most of what the Peppers had previously done, not to mention being more commercially friendly than anything the Californians had previously put their name to.
But similar to Metallica‘s The Black Album, By The Way was/is a shining example that great bands can write songs that appeal to the masses without losing too much of who they are, or shunning their pre-established audience away in the process. While Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik remained undoubtedly legendary albums in their own right, and responsible for making RHCP the juggernaut that they had become by 2002, there was a sense of lust to the songwriting of By The Way which to this day is difficult to not fall in love with.
The genius of Frusciante can be felt throughout so much of the Chili’s back catalogue but there’s a tinge of delicacy that can be felt throughout the majority of By The Way which makes it such a heart twisting listen. Most notably on tracks such as ‘Dosed’ and ‘I Could Die For You’ which are anchored by Frusciante’s trademark texture and intricacy both in terms of backing vocals and guitar lines.
How many bands can we look at today, that are nearing their twenty-year mark and we have to admit that in terms of new music, they’re past their best? The truth is, we would have more difficulty naming a list of bands that have still got it in the recording studio after twenty years than those that haven’t. This is something that’s to be expected, were we ever really expecting Slipknot to be able to carry the intensity of their debut album throughout the next two decades of music? We would be foolish if we did.
But that’s what By The Way did for RHCP, if Californication injected another decade into the band’s legs, then BTW did the same if not more. The bassline that kicks off ‘Can’t Stop’ is as instantly recognizable as the gentle guitar tone that begins the title track, and that’s not to mention the soothing chorus of ‘The Zephyr Song’. These three singles pulsed extra life into a band that had already contributed more to music than most bands could ever hope to. Instantly recognizable songs such as these made Red Hot Chili Peppers a reinvigorated band that hooked totally new audiences in.
There’s more to great albums than what they achieve for the artist in the here and now, great albums stand the test of time and give the musician/band a bridge that’s already built on their way to further successes. This idea encompasses what By The Way is more than anything else, it’s a record that had it never been released, and RHCP finished their careers with Californication, they would still be entered into the history books as a truly great band. But By The Way took an already legendary band and gave them another 15 years to form a legacy. It’s an album that will stand the test of time.
50 years from now you may come across a list of greatest/most influential albums of the 21st century, and logic would suggest that if Funk/Punk/Psychedelic rock is explored at all in this list, By The Way, will be there.