The Red Hot Chili Peppers, to me, have always been like guys I went to high school with. They might have been a few classes ahead of me and part of that cool crowd I could only aspire to hang out with but they seemed like friends. I look forward to their LP releases like I do an email from an old roommate. My anticipation for “The Getaway” was extra heightened as it’d be their second with “new” guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. After spending the last two days listening, I have to say, I’m disappointed. I can’t even print the Rock Chick’s reaction…suffice it to say her beautiful nose was crinkled up…
I’m like most people. I got on the Chili Peppers’ bandwagon after “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” their masterpiece. I bought it in the used record store after I heard “Under the Bridge.” Nothing had me prepared for the punk rock/funk that exploded out of the speakers. I sort of filed that record away and only went back to it sparingly. I was too focused on Pearl Jam and Soundgarden at the time… Then, years later came “One Hot Minute” with Dave Navarro manning the guitar. When I heard the song “Warped” something clicked in my brain (“my tendencies for dependencies are upending me…” God, I love that line). I loved that song and I even liked that mostly uneven album. I read recently that Flea describes it as a “bastard” album. I think “orphaned” album would be the more proper term, at least a bastard has parents. It was deeply flawed but I loved what they were doing. I quickly pulled out “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and realized I’d over looked a really special album. I immediately decamped to the record store and bought “Mother’s Milk.” I was hooked, I was in. I even own their first album despite the fact that I despise “rap-rock” for the most part. “Police Helicopter” and “Get Up And Jump” are great tunes…but I digress.
To have been along for the ride when Frusciante came back was thrilling. “Californication,” “By the Way,” and especially “Stadium Arcadium” are landmark albums in this band’s career. One might consider it their “golden” period. I even bought the oft overlooked live album, “Live In Hyde Park” which will be on my list of Essential Live Albums, if I ever get around to writing it. I was saddened when I heard Frusciante was once again leaving the band after the “Stadium Arcadium” tour but by then I’d realized that the Peppers had survived so many changes at guitarist that I was un-phased. It was a shame but I looked forward to what came next. I mean, I dug “One Hot Minute,” it was likely I was going to like what came next.
What came next, of course, was “I’m With You” with then new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. I think Chad Smith’s quote about the state of the band at the time sums it up, “This is a new band. Same name, but it’s a different band.” Anthony Kiedis even said, “This is a beginning.” With Frusciante and even with Navarro the Chili Peppers had a very strong guitarist and they sort of let the guitar take the lead (maybe especially with Navarro, they really accommodated him). Granted, Flea is the greatest bass player of his generation and plays with an aggressive abandon that I just love, but the band tended to cater to the guitarist de jour. That changed with Klinghoffer. He’s a capable, melodic guitarist, but virtuoso would not be on his resume. Between “Stadium Arcadium” and “I’m With You” Flea had famously gone to USC to study “music theory” and it showed on “I’m With You.” It was clear the focus on song structure was more acute on that album. I liked “I’m With You,” I even bought all the B-sides (“I’m Beside You”). Even so, I could tell “I’m With You” was a transitional album. The music was basically the same thing they’d done with Frusciante, only with Klinghoffer, a less skilled guitarist, filling in that role. I knew something would change on the next outing…
Enter, “The Getaway.” First and foremost, it would appear that Klinghoffer has now been fully integrated into the band. He’s no longer trying to fill Frusciante’s shoes, he’s clearly changed the way they approach songwriting and how they perform. The band seems like a more cohesive unit vs a group playing around a virtuoso guitarist ala Frusciante. The next big change was with producer: Rick Rubin was out after six albums together and Brain Burton (aka Danger Mouse) was in. I wasn’t too worried about the change at producer, especially because on U2’s last outing, “Songs of Innocence,” the best tunes were the ones Burton produced. However, Burton’s production brings a more “pop” sensibility where as Rubin brought a rock sensibility. This album is very slickly produced… I have remarked it’s so polished I can see my reflection.
After repeated listens, I must sadly admit, I’m disappointed. I read on-line that Kiedis recently went through a painful break-up and who knows what’s true, but this feels like a break-up album. An undercurrent of remorse and regret run through the whole thing. The rockers don’t quite rock with the raw, dangerous feel that the Chili’s usually bring. Even on the upbeat song, “Detroit” when Anthony sings, “Detroit, I’m crazy,” it doesn’t sound like a good kind of crazy or joyful at all. The ballads don’t seem to have the emotional intimacy the Peppers can usually create. Most of the songs fall into a mid-tempo, gauzy groove. Burton’s production makes this sound like a 70s pop album… and appropriately enough the King of 70s Pop, Elton John shows up on the collaboration “Sick Love” which is one of the better tunes here.
“The Longest Wave” is a beautiful ballad but it’s followed up with the slow “Goodbye Angels” which is better, but still midtempo at best. “The Hunter” is just depressing. I’ve heard some comparisons to the Beatles psychedelic period but I only hear that on “Feasting On the Flowers” and “Dreams of a Samurai” and it comes across more as an additional, accent color on their musical palette than a real musical direction. “Encore” is another meandering mid tempo song. It’s just too easy to lose interest amidst all this downer mellowness.
“Go Robot” is a funky, upbeat tune that is one of the better things here. “Ticonderoga” misses the mark slightly but at least it rocks. “Detroit” musters a little menace, I mean if you’re going to name-check Iggy’s home town you better bring a little “Search and Destory” swagger… But, alas, again the rockers just don’t bring the danger.
The best songs here are the first three that were available when you preordered the LP. “Dark Necessities” is one of their all time best tunes, proving even on bad albums, great bands will come up with at least one classic. “We Turn Red” is the best funky rocker on the album. Even the disco pretensions of the title tune, “The Getaway,” work. That song grows on you with each additional listen.
Further on the upside, I’ve never heard Kiedis sing better. Each album his vocal abilities improve. He sings beautifully and clearly from the heart. Flea’s bass is a gem. I think I finally understand Flea and Anthony’s relationship. It’s basic yen/yang. Flea is the light, Anthony brings the darkness. Klinghoffer isn’t going to win any “Guitarist of the Year” awards, but he brings some interesting guitar melodies. Chad Smith is the one who has to be most upset here… what they did to his drum sound is quite possibly illegal in southern states. He misses Rubin the most out of anybody here. And, I have to admit, there is more experimentation with different sounds on this record than I’ve heard from these guys and I will always respect an artist who stretches what they do. I would chalk this up as a “Noble Failure.”
While I can’t recommend this album, I’d say there are still a few tracks like “Dark Necessities” that are worth checking out. If this album tanks you have to wonder if Flea and Anthony will continue with Klinghoffer at guitar. It doesn’t look like Frusciante will be coming back as he continues to release unlistenable solo albums. Will they stay the course? I’m hopeful they do change producers. The Danger Mouse thing didn’t work for me… I don’t think I’m getting off the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bandwagon… but this record makes it a challenge to hang on… I guess I’ll just have to look forward to the next one…