The Red Hot Chili Peppers “The Getaway” Review

After years of taunting, RHCP have finally placed both feet firmly into dad-rock.

Let’s get something out of the way: the first half of the band’s name – “Red Hot” – was heavily applicable in their “Party On Your Pussy” days of the mid-80’s. When they adapted the name, they probably never imagined 2 out of 4 original members still going in 2016, a few years after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And with classic rock stations beginning to adapt some marquee bands that formed after them – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, et al – they’ve been finding themselves in a tough position. The core members of Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith and Flea have all eclipsed 50, and while they still come off as cool as ever – check their recent Carpool Karaoke for evidence – their partying, super-funk schtick just isn’t believable anymore. Thankfully for them, after a long and storied relationship with Rick Rubin (who always came back to them despite their insistence on Brian Eno) came to an end, they brought in permanent-chill-guy Danger Mouse to tone things down.

Danger Mouse did the same numbers that he did on James Mercer in their collaborative project, Broken Bells. He took some guy(s) in need of a more relaxed, family barbecue vibe and infused it. RHCP have been doing slower songs since, well, almost always. One of their breakthrough/biggest/best songs is “Under the Bridge,” a classic 90’s ballad. But to anyone who isn’t the most devoted RHCP fan, the slower songs often feel like filler – and every album they’ve released since 91’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” has been jam-packed with slow filler. For every “Scar Tissue,” there’s four completely forgettable and less-developed slow songs. Danger Mouse has expertly found a way to make RHCP embrace these songs rather than work around them. In fact, the band rarely gets above a few decimals on “The Getaway,” and while the singles released so far sound dull on their own, on the context of a chill album, it largely works.

The trick here is cohesion. Look at RHCP’s biggest songs – they often feature one member prominently. Chad Smith and Anthony Kiedis often fight for space amidst the bass work from Flea or the guitar work of John Frusciante (or Josh Klinghoffer/Hillel Slovak/Dave Navarro). Here, the band works collectively in a way that they’ve rarely done successfully before. There’s no funk blasts to break up the slow tracks. The closest we get are “Detroit” and “This Ticonderoga,” neither of which can or try to stand up to any RHCP funk standards. Instead, the band jams loosely and collectively on slower tracks.

Along with cohesion, there’s a focus on subtleties, something usually absent from any great RHCP songs. Their best and funkiest songs throw subtlety to the wind in the name of bass solos and nonsensical or dirty lyrics – again, at one point, their most famous song was “Party On Your Pussy” – but on “The Getaway” they embrace the quiet moments, the key changes, the moments of harmony. It’s weird to say but, after all these years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have finally figured out what to do with their subtler indulgences.

The album isn’t totally without some energy. Flea’s bass propels single “Dark Necessities,” although it begins to sound out of place after a while. And the aforementioned “Detroit” and “This Ticonderoga” have some bite to them. It’s also not without the typical RHCP shruggery. The guitar line in “The Longest Wave” sounds ripped from Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” and a vocal line in “We Turn Red,” almost definitely owes money to David Essex. There’s a reference to California a mere 98 seconds into the album, which probably isn’t a record for them, but still impressive. And the lyrics to “Goodbye Angels” try to tackle suicide to disastrous results. But the “throwaway songs” aren’t always throwaways, either. “Feasting on the Flowers” is a delight, with a real focus on the band as a whole (as well as some added background vocals). “Encore” is great, even if a little worn-in. Once you accept that there’s no funk blasts, it’s an unexpectedly joyful ride.

“The Getaway” kind of feels like the best album we’re going to get out of the Chili Peppers at this point – they’re burnt out on age and a revolving door of guitarists and seem pretty content to settle down. It would be upsetting if it didn’t work pretty well. RHCP may have been taunting this album for a while, maybe even a long while, and it could really be a lot worse. We’re not going to get another “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” and while this album can’t hold a candle to that, it has its own strengths. While never showcasing the RHCP at their best, it does showcase them at their most cohesive – and that’s something we have surprisingly little of on tape. Fir the first time in too long, we can just enjoy a Red Hot Chili Peppers album for what it is.

Grade: B

-By Andrew McNally

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