Peppers keep rock’s faint pulse beating

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

“Long live rock, I need it every night ... Long live rock, be it dead or alive.”

— The Who

There are music lovers — like my buddy Levine — who think musicians ceased to exist at the end of a particular era, that no more music, at least any worth hearing, was made after their favorites called it a career.

For Levine, it’s the ’50s and ’60s early rock and soul of the Four Tops, Temptations, Drifters, Coasters and the Kingston Trio. I’m always shocked when the Big Man acknowledges that he’s heard of a song that came out after 1966.

(Funny story about Levine: One night I was listening to some music I really like and I put on Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” If you know him, you might, like me, figure that Metallica is as foreign to Levine as the concept of bipartisanship is to hard-core tea partiers. But out of nowhere, he says, “I love ‘Enter Sandman.’ ” I paused for a brief, stunned moment, not sure that I’d heard him correctly. “Wait,” I said, “ ‘Enter Sandman’ is by Metallica, the hardest rock band in the world. YOU like this song?” His answer was right to the point: “That’s the song they play at Yankee Stadium when Mariano Rivera comes into the game.” That’s Levine.)

Anyway, I’ve been accused of ... let’s see, how did one kind soul put it ... oh yeah, writing “drivel about teenybopper music,” and a few have said I’m trying “to pretend I’m relevant” by writing about music that isn’t from my heyday, the late ’60s and ’70s. And while I’ll preach until the end that the best music ever made did indeed come from that era, unlike Levine and others with his mindset, I just don’t happen to believe no good music was made after that time.

I will acknowledge that it’s much harder these days to find really great music, especially if you’re a rock music fan. True believers keep waiting for some artist to come along and put an end to the “rock is dead” talk, but minus a few flurries, they’re usually disappointed.

That’s why the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new album “I’m With You” is so exciting. Led by the one-two punch of “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” — the best new song I’ve heard in years — and “Did I Let You Know,” the album rivals the Peppers’ “Californication” (one of my all-time Top 10 favorites) as the band’s best ever after only a week’s worth of listens.

I’ve played the album all the way through six or seven times in a week and have played songs like “Maggie,” “Did I Let You Know,” “Ethiopia,” “Even You Brutus” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” for others who matter to share with them the magic in the music.

Bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith are the propelling force behind some of the nastiest funk this side of George Clinton’s old Parliament-Funkadelic collective, and vocalist Anthony Kiedis, whose rapid-fire delivery is at once quirky and compelling, is as strong as ever.

But the big surprise on “I’m With You” is the work of new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced John Frusciante as the latest on the Peppers’ rotating guitar-go-’round. Klinghoffer fits right in, peppering songs like “Monarchy of Roses,” “Factory of Faith,” “Meet Me at the Corner” and “Goodbye Hooray” with bursts that are at times perfect counterpoint and at others stunning lead work.

In between the layers of funk that have become an RHCP staple, there are pleasantly surprising blasts of Afro-Cuban rhythms (“Dance” and “Did I Let You Know”) that somehow fit in perfectly.

Hard as it may be to believe, the Chili Peppers are only a couple of years away from celebrating their 30th year together. Rock music fans like me are stoked to know that they’re making some of their best music ever.

I may even play a couple of tracks for Levine.