by Adam Kaplan –
The world was ready for a great Red Hot Chili Peppers album, and the band, now in their fourth decade of making music, finally gave one to us. The band has a steady stream of good, and enjoyable hits, but their albums have been up and down. For every Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik and Californication is an I’m With You and One Hot Minute. The Getaway sturdily falls into the former category and is a must listen for even the casual Chili Peppers fans.
For the vast majority of the band’s run, the core has been lead singer and lyricist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, and drummer Chad Smith. For most of their albums, the band’s guitarist was John Frusciante, one of rock and roll’s greatest guitarists. Without realizing it, Frusciante was the band’s brain. Kiedis and Flea brought the energy and the funk to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but John Frusciante built the foundation that allowed Keidis and Flea to play on.
John Frusciante hasn’t always been with the band. He joined them for their fourth studio album, Mother’s Milk, and reinvigorated what could have been a one-note wonder. He joined the band after Hillel Slovak, the band’s guitarist on their early records passed away in 1988. Immediately, Frusciante launched the Peppers into a different stratosphere and helped them become the band we know and love today. Hits like “Under The Bridge”, “Californication”, “Scar Tissue”, and “Dani California” are all thanks to John Frusciante. The guitarist’s ability to compose melodies and layers provided the direction Kiedis and Flea needed to create life-altering music. He was constantly experimenting and changing his style which helped the band evolve and become better over time.
Unfortunately, Frusciante left the band again after Stadium Arcadium and the Peppers replaced him with John Klinghoffer- a man at least 15 years the other members junior and not nearly the talent that either Frusciante or Navarro were. The band tried to compensate for this by emphasizing its rhythm section for its next album, I’m With You– personified by the album’s lead single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”. The song starts off with a jumpy and rhythmic bass line from Flea. Soon Smith’s Stone Roses-esque drumming comes in, and even adds a bit of the melody with a cowbell beat. This is the foundation for Kiedis to sing his wacky and syllabic lyrics. In the background of all of this is Klinghoffer’s guitar. The song feels like it was written by Kiedis, Flea, and Smith and they told Klinghoffer to play whatever he wanted to, but not to interrupt the elders. It’s a good Chili Peppers song, but like the album itself, it’s noticeably missing direction from John Frusciante.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers seemed to have solved their John Frusciante problem with their newest album The Getaway. It still feels like its Flea’s and Kiedis’s project, but have properly allowed Klinghoffer to be more prominent. On “Dark Necessities”, the lead single from the album, we still start off with a bass riff from Flea and deliberate and chasing drum beat from Smith, but we also hear Klinghoffer’s melody shine through. The song’s success is hinged on Flea’s magic touch and Anthony Kiedis’ ability to pleasantly match words and syllables, but it also has a melody and an appropriate guitar solo to boot!
The Getaway still has the ghost of John Frusciante on it by being mellow and introspective, but it still has the energy the other members brings to the group. The word “stripped” seems to be commonly associated with this album, but I don’t know that that is the case. The album is certainly softer and more sedated than the Chili Peppers’ earlier work, but it’s still within the same vein as say an album like Californication. The album also benefits by being produced by hip hop producer Danger Mouse. Once part of the duo Gnarls Barkley who used to open for the Chili Peppers a decade ago, Danger Mouse is able to bring his own flavor and experience to a band already teetering on the edge of rock and rap. He’s able to focus Flea and Smith and use them to help accentuate Klinghoffer and vice versa.
Ultimately, the Red Hot Chili Peppers will always be a better band with John Frusciante steering the ship, but in his absence, I will take The Getaway-an album that both needs him and does great in his absence.