In what is probably breaking news to alt-rock fans, the Red Hot Chili Peppers don’t sound like the Red Hot Chili Peppers anymore! Yes, after over 30 years, 80 million albums sold, six Grammys, and 10 albums, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have finally crafted a brand new sound….well, sort of.
What’s always made the Chili Peppers so enduring is their refusal to be anyone else but themselves. It’s helped them become one of alternative rock’s most popular and influential acts of the last 25 years, but it’s also hurt them. They’ve been the butt of some jokes about ’90s nostalgia or the fact that they’re middle aged men still singing about sucking their kisses.
The Chili Peppers have matured their sound and lyrics over the years, but they could never quite shake off being the funky monks of yesteryear. Their last album, 2011’s I’m With You, had glimpses of a different sound but couldn’t help but shift back to the ruckus of their old one. Five years later and a new producer (Danger Mouse subbing in for Rick Rubin) behind the board, it seems that the band has finally managed to have it both ways: taking their aged sound and apply it in a different format. The twist? It actually works.
The Getaway is the 11th album for the Los Angeles quartet and it’s their most mellow release to date. Only two tracks on the album could be considered “rockers” (“Detroit” and “This Ticonderoga”), and it actually throws off the entire vibe of the album. They aren’t exactly bad songs, but they just don’t seem to mesh with the rest of the album. Tracks like “The Longest Wave,” “Feasting on the Flowers,” and the opening title track are very restrained numbers that go for moody grooves over thick party rock. It’s a real shock to hear Flea, alt-rock’s answer to John Entwistle, so restrained. For all the subtle groove he builds on “Dark Necessities” and “Go Robot,” you half expect him to ruin it with a slap-bass solo. But he keeps himself in check for the sake of the song.
The typically experimental and manic guitar player Josh Klinghoffer, who was all over I’m With You, has dialed himself back to fit into the band instead of breaking out in crazy guitar solos. He adds texture to his work on “Goodbye Angels,” “The Longest Wave” and the outstanding “Encore.” He’s not waiting for cues from the band, but drifting together. The only real downside to this is the lack of Chad Smith’s heavy and floor-stomping backbeat drumming. Smith never gets to build any great rhythm aside from pseudo-reggae on “We Turn Red” and “Sick Love,” which sounds a bit more 311 than the band were hoping for. Normally, the Chili Peppers were all about the rhythm section of Smith and Flea with John Frusciante or Klinghoffer waiting in the wings with a crunchy riff and a killer solo, but The Getaway is one of the rare times where all three instrumentalists have built songs around each other at the same time instead of building off of one’s starting riff.
And then there’s frontman Anthony Kiedis, who is probably the most unchanged of all the band members. He’s still got the pseudo-rap delivery, though his softer delivery on The Getaway feels more like spoken word. Some of it works, like on “Dark Necessities,” “We Turn Red,” “Go Robot” and “Encore” where his vocals are so relaxed and free-flowing. Other times there’s “Goodbye Angels” where his delivery sounds rushed trying to keep up with the beat, or on “Hunter” where he tries actually singing a ballad and can’t quite pull it off. Maybe the album’s slower tempo throws him off since he’s used to spitting rhymes as fast as Flea’s bass playing.
The lyrics on The Getaway may be the most introspective set that Kiedis has put on wax to date. One third of the songs here seem to be Kiedis’ response to his recent break-up with Helena Vestergaard. He knew whatever he had was doomed on “Sick Love” (“Openly defective is the lover you elected and / A portrait she was bound to portray”), but it couldn’t be any worse than where he was before on “Goodbye Angels” (“Suicide a month before I met you / Deep regrets, I never could forget you”). It’s some surprisingly dark stuff, but has moments of detours like the odd metaphors on “Detroit” and the road map on “We Turn Red.” Give the band credit though, there are little to no traces of comparisons to California on the album. Hooray for progress.
“Encore” may be one of the band’s sweetest sentiments, as Kiedis sings about finding one’s self on “Calexico highway” and noticing the little things in life. It may sound the Chili Peppers boarding on “cool dad” territory, but it feels sincere.
It’s amazing how this new reinvention of the Chili Peppers makes the last reinvention so weak by comparison. The Getaway seems like it has a much clearer sound and direction compared to I’m With You. Perhaps that last record was the band trying too hard or throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck. The Getaway feels much more complete and organic. Producer Danger Mouse makes the band’s funk roots stick out, but he understands the band are veteran musicians trying to talk about where they are now. It’s nothing groundbreaking and wherever the Chili Peppers are going now, it’ll more be remembered as the first step in the right direction that a total career reinvention. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that a fully-grown Red Hot Chili Peppers is extremely interesting.
Rating: 7 out of 10