Review Summary: The Peppers sound rejuvenated as they ease past concerns while foreshadowing a promising new beginning.I’m With You
was a bad album. The statement may seem a little blunt, but is an appropriate sentiment when taken into context. See, upon its release the Red Hot Chili Peppers had been one of the most consistently fantastic acts in rock music. After making their name in the 90s with the amazing Blood Sugar Sex Magik
the Peppers subsequently took over the rock world, beginning a reign that would last for well over a decade, culminating with the excellent three album streak that was Californication
, By the Way
, and Stadium Arcadium
. Then, the inconceivable happened when reclusive guitarist John Frusciante, whose arrival in the group had kick started their rise to stardom, left the band to make avant-garde electronic music and self-release it to the indie crowd. I guess something about being incredibly wealthy and beloved by millions didn’t appeal to the man.
For many Peppers fans, this was it: the Hindenburg had crashed! Rome was burning! Pickett didn’t quite make it up that hill! In retrospect the situation wasn’t beyond saving. Frusciante had actually left once before and the album they made without him, 1995’s One Hot Minute
, was a pretty solid outing. That said, the guy they replaced him with on that one was Dave Navarro, a full on rock & roll deity who most bands back then owed their entire lives to. Surprisingly, instead of going for a bigger name this time out, the Peppers recruited Josh Klinghoffer, an old associate of Frusciante’s who already had a fairly large discography with other less known groups. The lineup now back in form, the band returned to the studio and I’m With You
was the product; an empty, soulless, and, worst of all, boring release marred by uninspired songwriting and an overall dull musical pallet.
Now to lay the blame entirely at Klinghoffer’s feet is pretty unfair. His playing on the record may have paled in comparison to that of his predecessor, but there were a number of problems that plagued the release that were beyond his control; mostly the fact that the song writing was more predictable and formulaic than it had ever been in the past. While it had become apparent fairly quickly that Frusciante had a big impact on the group’s sound and writing, this album made it look like the band couldn’t even function without him. But now we’re five years on from that sad memory and the west coast group has dropped their second album with the new line up entitled The Getaway
. So the question is, has this record fixed the mistakes of their last and returned the band to the lofty heights of yesteryear" Well, yes and no.
marks a significant stylistic shift for the band. Much of this is due to the addition of producer Danger Mouse. Now, Danger Mouse is stepping in for Rick Rubin, who had produced everything the band had done since 1991; their best work. Yet, while the records they made with him were mostly classics, that wasn’t necessarily due to Rubin’s contributions. The production on those records, even in their best moments, sounded flat and sterile and often suffered from Rubin’s tendency to use dynamic range compression in the music even though no one has ever liked that. In truth, Rick Rubin is less a quality producer and more someone who knows how to read musical trends. He was able to predict the rise of hip-hop and thus snag production jobs with guys like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J before they were big, and then did the same thing with metal, helping thrash titans Slayer rise to stardom, but those albums were really never good because of his work. His studio guidance maybe, but never his work.
Ranting aside though, Danger Mouse brings a vibrancy to the recordings that Rubin never did. The songs here are rich soundscapes incorporating a variety of noises that ultimately come together and seamlessly join with the band’s playing. It doesn’t always work, mind. Some of the background synths don’t really fit, and prerecorded hand claps are never a good thing, but the Peppers were never a band who seemed to need those kinds of studio tricks. Their music was good enough on its own. Drummer Chad Smith has also been completely neutered in this recording, yet overall Danger Mouse brings some really great things to the fold. Also of note is the fact that Klinghoffer seems to be starting to come into his own. His playing was largely muted on the last record, but here he employs a variety of guitar techniques to good effect and even holds his own when it is time for him to dominate the spotlight.
With the lengthy list of variables playing into this record’s success ratio now detailed, it is finally time to discuss the music. The Getaway
’s track list is pretty hit and miss, and while I will discuss why in a moment, I’ll start by describing the album’s opening title track. Leading off a Chili Peppers album with a mid-tempo, Talking Heads style piece is an odd choice at best, and sadly this track never gains the momentum needed to engage the listener as much as it should. Thankfully, the album’s next cut, “Dark Necessities,” ropes you right back in. Flea’s best base line since 2006 ushers in this dense piece of music that could merit a review all its own and Anthony Kiedis, who sounds much rejuvenated throughout this release, draws the listener in with a melody that would have sounded right at home on By the Way
. The chorus comes in with an uplifting feeling about it and brings the song together in impressive fashion.
After the forgettable “We Turn Red,” “The Longest Wave” comes in and these two songs together introduce the album’s greatest flaw. The sentimentality is completely over the top. Even on funkier songs like “Feasting on the Flowers” the band gives in to accessibly delivered choruses and love letter lyrics about various aspects of life. The worst offender here is “This Ticonderoga.” The song begins with a furious punk sounding guitar riff that makes for some of their heaviest music in years, but the band just can’t seem to resist stopping the song dead in its tracks so that they can throw in a weird jumpy bass and piano based interlude. This happens twice in this song and yet even that seems like too much.
The up side, however, is that when this album hits, it hits like an absolute dream. Mid-album cut “Detroit” provides just that turn of the 90s era edge that the band desperately needed to recapture. Even though some of the songs can go in hokey directions at times, their best moments are at least enough to keep the listener’s focus and remind one that this band can still be capable of great things. The album highlight, though, has to be “Goodbye Angels.” This song! This is exactly what the Chili Peppers sound like when playing to their strengths. Kiedis gives a rousing vocal performance while Klinghoffer wisely lets frequent show stealer Flea be the rock of the composition so that he can set in with some great notes played high on the fret board. But we haven’t even touched on the song’s ending. My god this track ends with one of the best musical moments in Peppers history! Flea rips away with a bass riff that would make Les Claypool turn green with envy and then launches into a flaming monster of a finale that I can’t adequately describe without using language that would cause my supervisor at the radio station to fire me. If you listen to nothing else on this album, listen to the last minute of this song. It’s worth the price of the entire record by itself.
And now that that’s out of my system, let’s continue. After moving through another set of fairly hit or miss songs, most notably the island vibe infused “Sick Love,” we arrive with the two final tracks on the record. While “The Hunter” initially seems to be doomed to some of the same trappings of the other slower numbers on this record, its sing along chorus and beautiful guitar work make it a standout track. And no one can accuse the group with going with a lazy closer. “Dreams of a Samurai” can at times invokes English prog rock legends yet elsewhere channels the primal fury of the grunge heroes that the band often had to compete with. It is fitting that such a dense and sonically compelling album ends with such a complex cut that manages to end the record on a high while once more affirming that there may yet be enough ideas left for more albums down the road.
All said and done, this album may not be a complete success, but where it succeeds it can take you right back to the band’s creative peak. With Danger Mouse’s sonic alterations and Klinghoffer’s continued development into a fully accomplished musician, the band manages to leave a good bit to be excited about. While there is still a pretty decent road left for the band to traverse if they are to truly return to the lofty heights of their most creative periods, an album like The Getaway
is exactly the sort needed to make one instill faith in the group once again and wait with baited breath for what they release later down the road.
Best Tracks: “Goodbye Angels,” “The Hunter,” Dreams of a Samurai”
Worst Tracks: “The Longest Wave,” “Go Robot,” “Encore”