Red Hot Chili Peppers serves up lukewarm 11th album

Warner Brothers Records /Courtesy
Red Hot Chili Peppers The Getaway | Warner Bros. Records
Grade: C-

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There’s a single, basic, unavoidable reality facing every Red Hot Chili Peppers album released — if the songs aren’t catchy, the album isn’t good. Is that a fair standard? Not really, but as a band that has spent 30 years building a jam-funk rock legacy on lyrics such as, “K-i-s-s-i-n-g / Chicka chicka dee / Do me like a banshee,” the band has to be prepared to accept that we don’t really listen for deeply metaphoric lyrics or complex, layered instrumentation.

When the band members set out to create The Getaway, they clearly decided that 2016 was the year for a major rebirth. They ditched Rick Rubin, who has produced every single Red Hot Chili Peppers album since 1991’s Bloodsugarsexmagik, in favor of Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, who has produced the likes of Gorillaz, the Black Keys and Adele. They even got Elton John to come in and play piano for a track.

All that rearrangement had a definite effect on the sonic base of the album. Where Rubin sought to emphasize the rough guitar edges and harsh bass licks, crafting the Peppers’ signature sound, Burton takes a much more restrained approach. Credited as co-author on several songs, he makes himself known immediately in the presence of stacked piano chords and subtle string ensembles spread through the album. Unfortunately, for the most part, it doesn’t work.

The album starts off promisingly enough, with title track “The Getaway” opening in a slightly darker, moodier space, finding Flea surprisingly subdued. We find the emphasis instead on the choppy high notes of guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, finally feeling like an integrated member of the group after the growing pains of 2011’s I’m With You, his first LP recorded with the band.

The album’s second track, “Dark Necessities,” is by far its best, a frustratingly short glance at what this album could’ve been — something darker, more exploratory in genre, yet still undeniably catchy and unambiguously Chili Peppers. Driven by an alt-rock inspired piano and guitar, the track works beautifully, and it gives a lot of credence to frontman Anthony Kiedis’ sneering chorus: “You don’t know my mind / You don’t know my kind, / Dark necessities are part of my design.” Were we wrong to pigeonhole the Peppers as a band good for nothing more than funky bass riffs and the occasional “Chicka wow wow”?

No. As much as every second of “Dark Necessities” is worth deconstruction, the rest of the album leaves only brief attention-worthy moments, and most of them center on Klinghoffer’s increased presence in the mix. His closing solos to “Dark Necessities” and “Goodbye Angels” are both worth the listen, and he opens “The Longest Wave” with a classic riff reminiscent of “Under the Bridge.” Unfortunately, the rest of the song languishes about 15 beats-per-minute too slow for its content. “Sick Love,” while a clear attempt to tread new ground, falls short as well. Elton John on the keys makes little impact on the track, and the atmospheric strings it rides on pushes it over the edge into gaudiness. “Go Robot” has no distinctive bass riff, no distinctive vocal riff and no distinctive guitar lead. Also, it’s about fucking a robot.

Only the album closer “Dreams of a Samurai” re-piques our interest. It’s the album’s longest song, far less linear, and opens with a minute of piano, refusing to be instantly identified as a Red Hot Chili Peppers track. There’s a choir, muted bass and crashing untimed drum fills. Where it swells, it doesn’t rely on strings and leaves Klinghoffer the room to screech out a lead guitar that ties the song together into something altogether more mature sonically than almost any song by the band to date. You can almost call it rock.

Yet it all goes back to that undeniable reality: With only one or two songs catchy enough to return to for repeated listens, the album largely undersells the band’s ability to continue releasing new and compelling music. “Dark Necessities” will be the only song from this album to get any radio play, and the band would do well to consider why.

Contact Imad Pasha at [email protected].