By Clayton Kelley
Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Album: The Getaway
Label: Warner Bros
Release Date: June 17, 2016
There is a graceful form that sparks within oneself when the breath of regeneration is embraced. Like a serpent devouring its tail, sheathing the skin into itself, so does the past. All the while, the former is hidden from view, but still vibrant in approach. I begin this review with a metaphor of self-reflection because it represents not only the current state of a band, which has experienced constant flux and growth in its 30 plus years of musicianship, but also because the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the few mainstream artist of the last three decades to achieve a certain degree of carefree endurance in spite of all of the challenges brought forth by both professional and personal changes.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 11th studio album, The Getaway, is one of their most intimate and honest releases since 2002’s By The Way. This record isn’t about proving anything to an audience that craves a re-hash of sounds from the past. Rather, The Getaway is about embracing new ideas through the layered instrumentation and honest creative passion that comes when one finds their flow. There is so much maturity and experience to be felt on this record, making it a far cry from some of the “in your face” aggression that these California rockers with tube-socks had produced in their earlier day. Understandably, this can offer a level of polarization among some fans.
A big reason for this raw approach in songwriting that is clearly evident throughout this record is because the band itself felt its own grace falling under pressure, especially in recording 2011’s I’m With You. It was the first album since 1995’s One Hot Minute to not feature lead guitarist John Frusciante and to bring in touring mate Josh Klinghoffer. There isn’t any doubt that Frusciante was a vital influence to the Chili Pepper’s creative peak and a driving force in the band’s trademark funk, psychedelic undertone. The problem with I’m With You was a lack of synchronicity. Slapstick legend Flea ended up filling the void of Frusciante’s departure, with Klinghoffer standing on the sidelines. On The Getaway, Klinghoffer begins to show more weight. Rather than being a frontrunner in need of attention, Klinghoffer provides a subtle, yet strong, approach to each track on The Getaway.
Another integral step in this regeneration process meant parting ways with longtime production extraordinaire Rick Rubin and bringing in Danger Mouse (AKA Brian Burton). With production work ranging from Gorillaz’s Danger Days, Portugal. The Man’s Evil Friends and The Black Keys’ Attack and Release, Danger Mouse is prominently known as his director’s role in music, leading artist to work in their highest possible potential. This is exactly what his approach was in The Getaway, making him less of a third party observer (like Rubin was) and more of an extra member in the creative process of each track. I believe having this outside influence resulted in a progressive step for the band. It’s not progressive in the sense that the music is super intricate, it’s progressive because this is a completely new production technique for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A technique that is more coherent and freely expressed among a shared group of individuals whose connection seems more natural than ever before.
With all of these changes in mind, it isn’t any surprise this album is titled The Getaway. The album’s core artwork manifests this undividing newfound bond and strength in numbers between the four Peppers’ members. Painter Kevin Peterson represents this perfectly by showing an interesting character portrait that bears an uncanny resemblance to each of the member’s persona. Walking in step, as if to “getaway” from outside influences, it represents drummer Chad Smith as the bear, Josh Klinghoffer as the girl, Flea as the racoon and leading man, Anthony Kiedis, as the leading raven.
You can hear the layered experimentation and unique new approaches in practically every track on this record. This is especially most prevalent in the opening title track. Chad Smith’s beatboxed and loop-filled percussion followed by Flea’s enveloping bass groove and Klinghoffer’s spidery guitar effects are woven seamlessly over Kiedis’s flowing melodic harmonies. Anna Waronker provides beautiful backing vocals in the pre-chorus and the climax, giving a lighter glare to this disco-funk tune. The track, which is about Kiedis’ recent two year relationship with a girl half his age, is a great opener because it solidifies both the sounds and central themes of this record.
Although much of this album is very mellow, there are some free-form rock n roll jams, such as “We Turn Red,” “Detriot,” and “This Ticonderoga”. “We Turn Red” is one of my favorites on this record, and it really showcases Chad Smith’s arena rock drumming. Smith’s amplified and complex drumming style, which sounds like John Bonham in “When The Levee Breaks,” behind Klinghoffer’s funky wah-wah riff makes this song the most ambitious. Kiedis sings with the same sex-fueled aggression found on Blood Sugar Sex Magik as well. “Detroit” is a heavy funkified tribute to Anthony Kiedis and Chad Smith’s home state, proving that the fire still burns through their past roots. Klinghoffer channels Flea’s inner funk in this song and really stands out. “This Ticonderoga” is the wackiest tune on this record flowing from a punk speed to a lounge-esque style. It begins with a Primus-fueled riff before changing into a smooth piano-driven interlude. There is an amusing play-fullness to it with lyrics such as “illusionary is so damn scary/ I call my best friend Flea.”
There are some tracks that do tend to fall flat on this record, sounding almost too formulaic for the Peppers. “The Longest Wave” is probably The Getaway’s most Chili Pepper-esque tune. Klinghoffer plays his longing hammer-ons with the spirit and soul of John Frusciante’s ballads, such as “Under the Bridge”. There is a slightly present ethereal essence to this track that’s brought out by how slow yet heavy in weight it feels. “Feasting on the Flowers” has this same effect. It’s almost as if the guys are trying to dumb down their music too much for “indie” radio-friendly airwaves (an oxymoron indeed).
With the addition of swirling ’80s synthesizers, many tracks on this record are masqueraded with a light hearted groove that is hiding more of the darker tones in the underbelly. “Sick Love” and “Go Robot” are several songs that benefit quite well to the additional sounds, while still providing a shadier substance. “Sick Love” is a soft rock tune that features Elton John on piano. Klinghoffer plays with an air of Hendrix breeze, but manages to bring in very small elements of what sounds like reggaeton. “Prisons of perspective/ How your vision gets corrected/ Sick love is my modern cliche.” It’s a very feel-good track, but it holds a profound message of the dangers of submitting to perfection and clinging on to the facade which is brought out by fame. “Go Robot” has a foxy electro-’80s jam to it that reminds me of Prince’s music in that era. Once again, as upbeat as this song is, it is about two lovers whose sexual energy grew stagnant, like robots. It is a fitting message for this subtextual song that is shadowed by the ’80s energy of prideful bliss and greedy ecstasy.
However, some of these darker qualities do shine through much more obvious than others. This is true with “Dark Necessities”, the album’s first lead single to be released. “Do you want this love of mine/ The darkness helps to sort the shine/ Do you want it now.” Kiedis’ lyrics are an embrace of the polarity between the creative impulsions that can arise when pulling through the darker aspects of life. It makes sense, given Kiedis’ many drug induced endeavors that has shaped and given character to much of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music. It is one of my favorite tracks, as there’s a very refined focus to this cut that reflects much of the production quality of Danger Mouses’ work. One that seems very high and hectic, but isn’t necessarily reflected in the music itself. Flea’s tense bass and Klinghoffer’s muted guitar compliment each other quite well in the opening build-up, which is underlined with piano chords and arpeggios before exploding into a high voltage bass solo with a pompous punch. This is my second favorite crescendo on this album next to the one that is found in “Goodbye Angel”. With a harmonious beginning layered against a spiraling pressure, the song eventually builds up into a progressive polyrhythmic explosion of instruments. This makes these several songs very reminiscent to By The Way’s “Can’t Stop”, especially when Kiedis’ familiar staccato rhythm starts to set in.
Although Kiedis’ vocal delivery hasn’t really developed as much as I would have hoped after being on the road for 30 plus years, his ability to write abstracts feelings and make them come back down to earth is incredible. “Encore” and “The Hunter” highlight Kiedis’ ability to make things sound phonetically appealing, while still being very heartfelt. “Encore” has a very stream of consciousness lyrical delivery to it. “Take a little breath before you catch an early death/ There is so much sky,” sings Kiedis. “The Hunter” is an interesting song, as it’s the only track that does not feature Flea on bass. Both of these tunes segue well into the album’s ultimate closer, “Dreams of a Samurai”. This song is an intense flow of pure psychedelia. There’s a slight nod to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, as it opens with a wistful piano under the backing vocals of singer Beverly Chitwood. Klinghoffer plays in 10/8 while managing to be as simplistic as 4/4 playing. I will venture to say, this is probably their most progressive track released to date, and it would be interesting to hear what extra jam sessions would come out of this tune in live performances.
The Getaway feels like a new beginning for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It marks the start of a new musical journey for this band. One that is of constant reassembly and reinvention. Those interested in hearing this come to life should check out their three Texas shows in January, which will kick off their North American tour.