The word "mature" crops up a lot in positive reviews of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' latest disc, 2002's By the Way, and such references are apt. Unfortunately, maturity isn't the most scintillating quality: It doesn't quicken the pulse or trigger the endorphins, and it can easily slide into less laudable characteristics, such as cautiousness and tedium. So while By the Way is unquestionably the Peppers' most mature recording to date, it also leaves you wondering if their cocks can still hold up their socks.
The roots of this particular development can be traced to 1991's "Under the Bridge," in which Pepper frontman Anthony Kiedis warbled unsteadily about his love for Los Angeles over the least funky track the group had ever released. Had it tanked, the song might have been regarded as a tangent the Peppers wisely chose not to follow. But its breakthrough success convinced the players to downplay their frenetic party-boy vibe in favor of a search for pop-rock profundity. On By the Way, this process reaches its logical conclusion. The title cut contains some of bassist Flea's trademark thumping, as well as a decent guitar figure offered up by John Frusciante. But each time these elements seem to be building up some momentum, they're cut off in favor of Kiedis's el-sensitivo crooning. The entire project feels watered-down and edge-free -- two descriptors that never would have been applied to this band back in the day.