LP Review: Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “The Getaway”: Disappointed

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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…

Cheers!

Red Hot Chili Peppers: “We Turn Red” – Song 3 From “The Getaway”

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It’s been a big weekend here at the house… On the good side of the ledger the Red Hot Chili Peppers have released the third song from their upcoming LP, “The Getaway.” The new song, “We Turn Red” is, I assume, the last single to be released before next Friday when the LP “drops” as the kids say. On the bad side of the ledger a) I had a bat get in my house, so I spent all night Friday under the bed and b) the wife let me know she is onto how much music I’ve been buying lately. I’ve had to start moving around the house to hidden alcoves in order to post my musical missives. Marriage is a compromise. On to the new music….although I did catch and release the bat… another story for another post…

The first thing that jumped out at me on this new single, “We Turn Red, ” is the return of Chad Smith’s drum sound. Finally he’s out of the doghouse. His drums are the bedrock of this tune. This is the full, strong drum sound I’m used to on a Chili Pepper’s album. I have to admit to you, after the initial blast of drums and guitar, the tempo shifts to a funky, wah-wah riff and for just a second, only briefly, I had a “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” flashback. I’m not suggesting Klinghoffer has suddenly found his inner Frusciante, but that funky riff took me back.

After three very different songs from “The Getaway” I have no idea where this album is going to go. I always assumed the last record, “I’m With You” was going to be a transition to something post-Frusciante, but I haven’t been sure where they were going to go next. Again, I’m three songs in and I’m not sure I have a clearer picture. I will say this, two of these songs are very funky. The Chili’s have always been a funk band but after “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” funk was more of a garnish or a side dish of what they did. Every record got progressively more rock and less funk which is understandable with the guitarist they had. It seems to move forward the Chili Peppers may be moving backward to a more funk-based sound. I’m ok with that in this case because funk is grounded on a great bass line and strong drums… things the Chili Peppers happen to have. It’s going to be hard for them to rock like they did in the Frusciante-era because Klinghoffer just can’t play like that. He’s a nice, melodic, capable player but John Frusciante was like the second coming of Hendrix. It’s like trying to replace Mickey Mantle…

As I said, the song blasts out of the gate with some strong drums and the most aggressive guitar I’ve heard so far on this record. The song has at least three time-signature changes that I counted. They start off rocking, shift to that “Blood, Sugar…” funky riff and then on the choruses there’s an ethereal, acoustic/vocals break that is amazing. As I stressed to my daughter’s friend yesterday afternoon when I was forcing my daughter’s gang to listen to the new Chili Peppers with me at the pool, (someone has to teach the children about rock and roll and it might as well be me…) when you think about how far Anthony Kiedis has come as a vocalist it’s quite amazing. He started as a rapper. The time-changes in this song come fast and often and it’s pretty impressive to hear. Only a band as tight and as talented as the Chili Peppers can pull that kind of thing off. Rush could probably do this, I mean, those guys can do anything, but not many bands can do that in the confines of one song.

“Dark Necessities” remains my favorite of the new songs. The title track, “The Getaway” has really grown on me and I like “We Turn Red.” I look forward to hearing this whole album because it could really go in any direction at this point. This is a great band at a real inflection point. “I’m With You” was more about the indestructibility and resilience of the Flea, Chad and Anthony. They’ve changed guitar players more than anybody outside of Pearl Jam’s drummer situation that I know of. With “I’m With You” proving there was going to be life after Frusciante, “The Getaway,” the second with Klinghoffer on guitar is the statement record. What is the new identity of the Chili Peppers? I guess we’ll find out on Friday….I for one, can’t wait to find out!

Cheers!!

Red Hot Chili Peppers: “The Getaway” Song 2 From the New LP

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While the Rock Chick and I slipped out to Denver for the Mudcrutch concert this week, (post on that show coming soon…) the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the second song on the highly anticipated (well, highly anticipated here at B&V) album “The Getaway.” It’s the title track, “The Getaway” and after the stellar first song “Dark Necessities” hope was running high that the next track would be as stellar. I got an email notification on my phone the tune was out but because of my feeble technical skills, I couldn’t download and hear the tune until I got back to the home base. “The Getaway” is not only the title track from the record but is also the first track on the record.

Being that this is the first track on the album, I was expecting to be blasted out of my chair with an upbeat rocker. I was surprised when a quiet, jazzy beat starts the song, followed by a spacey, mellowed-out guitar. Of course, Flea’s bass is still all over this song and impeccable. I do wonder if Danger Mouse and the rest of the band are mad at Chad Smith based on what they’ve done to his drum sound here. It sounds like he was recorded down the hall from the rest of the band like they sent him to a “time out.” One has to wonder in a band as notorious as the Chili Peppers what you’d have to do to get sent to a “time out” but I digress. I’m guessing ol’ Chad misses Rick Rubin and the wonderful drum sound he seemed to coax out of him.

There are a lot of things here I hadn’t heard on a Chili Pepper’s tune… female back-up vocals being the most surprising element. The guitar is understated but as I’ve said before, with Frusciante gone and Klinghoffer in, this is a different band. I wouldn’t call this a ballad, but it’s pretty mellow. It’s best described as “mid-tempo.” I will admit, and perhaps it was my expectations, I didn’t like this song the first time through. Though I also must admit, the more I listen to it the more it has grown on me. Anthony’s vocal is another stand out performance. The more I listened to this track the more that vocal and Flea’s sublime bass began to hit me harder. I will say, the Rock Chick, on her first listen said, “Not bad…” which for her is almost a rousing endorsement.

This song has long verses and a very short chorus. So the hook is not apparent, you have to really listen a few times before it clicks. The first few times it felt like one long lyrical blast from Anthony. Then you start to key in on the female backing vocals and there it is… the chorus. It’s a complicated song performed with deceiving simplicity, but it does reward you with repeated listens. Again, strange tune to open the album with, but when you’re the Chili Peppers, you can do what you want.

I will continue to post updates as more songs are released, if any are released, prior to the June 10th album release date. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys live again but with the recent health scare concerning Anthony, it might be a while. Thank God he’s ok, we’ve lost too many rockers this year. Get well soon Anthony!

Check the tune out, let me know what you think in the comments section.

Cheers!!