""By The Way,"" you're not expecting this from the Red Hot Chili Peppers

    It’s a fan’s worst fear: the “”weird album.”” Most major bands do it; Radiohead’s “”Amnesiac”” and U2’s “”Zooropa”” come to mind as a couple prime examples. For many, such oddities remain on the CD rack for posterity and good sportsmanship.

    In their latest release, “”By the Way,”” the Red Hot Chili Peppers have officially gone off the deep end. They’ve made their weird album.

    Gone are our beloved L.A. funky punk rappers spewing profanity, raunch and the punchiest funk-rock grooves around. However, the band that has emerged in its place has its strengths exactly where they were previously lacking. The new Peppers find strength in melody instead of riffs; in seamless unity rather than unbridled testosterone.

    Interestingly, the Chili Peppers’ “”weird album”” is probably their most mainstream — another dreaded part of the Fan’s Greatest Fears List. Though the band has been heavily marketed since its watershed 1991 release, “”Blood Sugar Sex Magic,”” this latest album has to be the most hyped of them all.

    MTV, MTV 2 and VH-1 upped their play of anything Chili Peppers to sickening levels. San Diego alternative radio station 91X played a new song off the album every day leading up to its July 9 release. RHCP Backyard Barbecue Sweepstakes entry boxes appeared in Quizno’s sandwich shops around the country (I’m keeping my fingers crossed).

    Also, fans registered on http://www.redhotchilipeppers.com received daily e-mails directing them to a site where they could hear one new song off the album per day. Although it was a great idea in theory, it may have backfired. Some complained that the sound quality of streaming Internet audio detracted heavily from the songs. This is true — the album didn’t sound nearly as good as it is when heard at full CD quality.

    It’s hard to say whether the hype can be attributed to Warner Bros. knowing it has a dynamite album on its hands or knowing it’s has a mainstream, marketable album. Most likely, it’s both.

    “”By the Way”” is a great album — no doubt about it. The songwriting is better than it’s ever been, the music is extremely tight (don’t look for out-of-control bass or guitar solos), and there’s enough syrupy melody to keep a different track stuck in your head, depending on which one was playing when you got out of your car.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers

    By the Way

    Warner Bros.

    ****

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