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Album Reviews

The Getaway

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2016

One of the reasons the Chili Peppers have cemented their status as one of the biggest bands on the planet has been their ability to consistently deliver high quality albums which feature undeniably catchy, yet endearing songs that often carry a strong emotional weight and resonance. Yes, there’s usually the occasional filler track or two (or three) on their albums, but the magic of their best songs always steal the show and has helped elevate their music into truly beautiful realms at times.

But ever since the departure of their not-so-secret-weapon John Frusciante, there has been a distinct lack of that aforementioned magic in their sound.  This should come as no surprise for long-time fans of the band, as it’s certainly no coincidence that their best albums (Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication just to name a few) all featured Frusciante on guitar.  Replacing one of the greatest guitarists of their generation was no small order, and the growing pains were quite evident on the predictably underwhelming “I’m With You” released back in 2011.

New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (a collaborator and protégé of Frusciante’s) sounded pretty timid on that album, which is somewhat understandable considering the huge shoes he had to fill.  The rest of the band sounded a bit lost as well as they attempted to gel with their new guitarist, resulting in a pretty uneven and disappointing album, even considering the fact that Frusciante was out of the mix.

But now here we are a full 5 years later, with Klinghoffer haven played countless shows with the band, one would think that would have provided ample time for the Chili’s to redevelop their chemistry and get back to producing high quality albums again. 

Unfortunately, that’s not totally the case on The Getaway.  While the band does seem to have better chemistry and a more well-defined sound this time around, it’s not a particularly compelling one for the most part.  Similar to “I’m With You”, Flea’s bass is again at the forefront of most songs, while Klinghoffer seems slightly more confident this time around, displaying occasionally interesting/satisfying solos here and there.  But, for the most part, Klinghoffer's minimalist approach to his instrument really makes most of these songs sound too sparse and empty.  The band attempts to make up for this with the occasional appearance of hand-claps, piano, or subtle electronic flourishes, but it does very little to inject any real sense of dynamics or spark into the band's sound.

It's not that Klinghoffer doesn’t show up on most of these songs, he’s technically there, but like his persona, he seems perfectly fine with hanging around in the background and avoiding the spotlight, content to let his guitar be as minimal apart of the process as possible.  Granted, Frusciante’s guitar playing was often subtle at times, but his ear for melody and hooks is again sorely missed here at times.

Without this integral melody and energy in the music, Anthony Kiedis seems to be a bit lost as a vocalist occasionally, which makes some of the songs here fall a bit flat as a result (i.e. “The Longest Wave”, “The Hunter”, and “Dream of a Samurai”). Similar to “I’m With You”, Mr. Mustachio is unable to cook up a truly memorable vocal melody on some of these songs.  The notable exception of course is the lead single “Dark Necessities” which legitimately captures the type of unique warmth and intimacy that characterizes most of the Chili’s classic songs (and features Klinghoffer's most memorable/rewarding solo to date).  On a few other tracks, his choruses either just don’t quite work with the music or seem meandering/underwhelming at first, but with repeated listens they can start to grow on you to a degree.  "Encore" is one of those songs, with it's soaring, unabashedly poppy chorus that would otherwise sound a bit too corny if it weren't for the subdued beauty of Klinghoffer's guitar.  "Sick Love" is another tune that fails to impress at first, but it's laid-back vibe and lazily catchy chorus can get stuck in your head rather quickly (and not actually in a bad way).

A few songs on “The Getaway” never quite fully take off or can’t quite stick the landing so to speak (i.e. the choppy "This Ticonderoga"), but fortunately the one consistently good aspect of the music is Flea, who injects some funky, yet generally laid-back, infectious basslines into the mix early and often.  He does this best on the pretty satisfying “We Turn Red” a tune which finds the Chili's clicking on all the proverbial laid-back cylinders, and the band does get into a decent groove in the middle section of the album with the 1-2-3 punch (or should I say “gentle shoves”) of “Go Robot”, “Feasting on the Flowers”, and “Detroit”.  These are good songs to bob your head to, and will probably get you moving on the dance floor, but despite some catchy vocals from Kiedis, there’s no real magic or anything particularly memorable in these tunes (with apologies to the infectiously funky beat on "Go Robot" ).  That’s not to say this album is full of underwhelming songs, it’s just that some of them are generally forgettable and fail to make much of an impression, which is fairly disappointing considering the history of great songs the band usually delivers on their albums.

At this stage of the game, with the majority of the band now in their 50s, it seems like the Chili Peppers are basically not out to impress on “The Getaway”, sounding somewhat tired and unmotivated.  From a practical standpoint, this is understandable: they’re old, ridiculously wealthy, rock-hall-of-famers, etc (hence lack of motivation).  Given that, unless Frusciante magically reappears down the road (he’s done that before mind you) the Chili’s seem destined for more modest albums in the foreseeable future, unlikely to produce anything that rivals their glory days, but perhaps nipping at the heals of the general “goodness” that characterized their 2000s albums (which now seem like a somewhat distant memory). 

Haven said that, upon repeated listens, you do start to garner an appreciation for the broader inconspicuous vibe of the album and its subtly enjoyable appeal.  It’s a chill record that’s not interested in competing with the band’s past greatness, but rather delivering kind of a down-in-the-groove, easy-going, unassuming listening experience.  It can be a somewhat vapid experience at that, but perhaps with a little patience and proper expectations, this album could be a grower.  There are subtle rewarding layers to be found here, which after several listens help bring out a more distinctly satisfying appeal to many of the songs that might otherwise seem too bland upon first glance.  This helps contribute to a surprisingly cohesive and modestly rewarding listening experience, despite the overly sedate and plush vibe found here.  Overall, "The Getaway" is definitely an improvement over the disappointing “I’m With You”, and while it's not quite in the same league as any of their Frusciante albums, it at least deserves to be in the conversation.

8.2

I'm With You

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2011

Although I really liked Stadium Arcadium, it was hard to deny that the Chili's best days were probably behind them, which is understandable considering their age, etc.  You really got the sense that they were waaay too comfortable making mid-tempo ear-candy for the masses, but at least they had John Frusciante to spice things up right? Not anymore, and the results are fairly predictable on I'm With You.  Comparisons to One Hot Minute abound, given I'm With You's general awkwardness (or should I say underwhelmingness?), but at least OHM had some punch to it occasionally, and at least OHM had some borderline great songs sprinkled in amongst the mediocrity.  I'm With You only has a few good songs, and really, they're just barely good at that.  There are unfortunately no songs here that come close to any of their classics, and the general mood of the album is more subdued than By The Way, but lacking the intimacy and warmth of that album.  The whole subdued/emotional/sad/silky thing sounded fresh back in 2002, and it worked, but now it just sounds tired.  That said, the album is generally pretty listenable, but it's a bit to bland and boring to be honest.  Main saving grace is Flea, as the old man really puts on a clinic on bass.  He can still bring it, but overall this album is a disappointment, but probably slightly more-so than I expected unfortunately.

7.6

By The Way

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2002

The Chili Pepper's 1999 album Californication propelled the band back onto the radar of the alternative rock scene, ranking highly on many "Best-Of" lists for the year and earning the Chili's a new generation of fans in the process.

The band's newfound sense of melody on Californication certainly had a lot to do with the success of the album, so it makes sense that the Chili's chose to further explore their melodic tendencies on their follow-up album By The Way. 

That being said, what is somewhat surprising about By The Way is just how melody-intensive and subdued the album sounds compared to their prior efforts.  On By The Way, the Chili's have all but abandoned their hard hitting brand of funk-rock that made them famous.  In its place are mellower songs with sweeping choruses, lush guitar tones, subdued bass, easy rhythmic drumming, and an undeniably poppy vibe.

That's not to say that this newfound sense of melody is a bad thing, since it is hard to deny the fact that most of the Chili Pepper's best songs were those that carried the most emotional weight, which in turn were typically their ballads like "Under The Bridge" or "Scar Tissue" for example.  And the Chili's had certainly hinted at a more melodic direction as evidenced by several tracks on Californication, but By The Way really takes their melodic impulses into new territory.

And its interesting territory too, as while the vast majority of the album is quite poppy in nature, the band does a good job experimenting with some unique melodic textures throughout By The Way.  A good example of this is on "Universally Speaking", which has an almost magical, uplifting quality to it.  Its a joyous song with a beautiful melody, sounding almost Beatlesque with its hints of psychadelica in the chorus. 

Other good examples of the Chili's broadening their sound include "The Zephyr Song" which features some computer generated beats and "Midnight" which includes a sweeping violin intro, creating a brooding yet sensual atmosphere for the song.  Both tracks feature memorable choruses and some beautiful melodies.

But as mentioned prior, the best songs on By The Way are those that carry the most emotional weight.  After the upbeat "Universally Speaking" the Chili's deliver 3 back-to-back moodier pieces, starting with the dark yet compelling "This is the Place", then the incredibly sweet and somber "Dosed", followed by the dreary yet gripping "Don't Forget Me".  These songs do an excellent job of sucking the listener into the album with their strong emotional resonance, giving the album a more personal and intimate feel.

That vibe continues on the romantic and endearing "I Could Die For You", which is a perfect segway into the equally sensual "Midnight".  It's hard to believe that the same guy who wrote "Sir Psycho Sexy" also wrote these 2 songs, which is just further evidence of how significantly different Anthony Kiedis's mindset was compared to a decade earlier.

But Kiedis can still spit white-boy raps with the best of them, as evidenced on the catchy "Can't Stop".  As a rapper, Kiedis sounds much more seasoned and wiser compared to his younger days on this track, which really adds to the endearing quality of the song.  "Cabron" is yet another highlight, with it's upbeat and light-hearted acoustic feel, and "On Mercury" recalls some of the old-school, beachy sound that dominated much of the Chili's classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik album.

But ultimately, the predominate vibe on By The Way is that of intimacy and warmth, so its fitting that the last track on the album "Venice Queen" effectively captures that spirit.  It's an endearing dedication to a friend of the band's who had recently passed, so it's a touching way to end a very emotionally heartfelt album.

By The Way reflects the sound of a band continuing to grow older and mature as musicians.  That being said, by putting such a strong emphasis on melodicsm, the Chili's also sacrifice some of the excitement, rawness, and energy that made them such a great band in the first place.

Ultimately though, despite the change in sound, By The Way is still a great album, not only because the melodies are legitimately very good, but mainly because of the Chili's ability to create a strong emotional resonance in their songs, which in turn gives the album a uniquely warm, initimate, and endearing vibe.

9.2

Stadium Arcadium

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2006

Double-albums, by their very nature, can be difficult to digest.  They are often times meandering and bloated, usually with a fair amount of filler material to boot.  The reality is that it is quite difficult for any band (with the exception of The Beatles on the White Album) to cram 2 albums worth of material into 1 product, and have each song sound fresh, engaging, and keep the listener's attention over the course of 2 solid hours.

And as good of a band as The Red Hot Chili Peppers are, they too are not immune to the downfalls that accompany their sprawlling double-album Stadium Arcadium.  The record contains 28 songs total, evenly divided between 2 discs, the first being "Jupiter" and the second being "Mars".  Overall, Stadium Arcadium is a very good album, containing some exciting new songs that rank right up there with some of their classics.  That being said, this is a double-album, so for every great song on Stadium Arcadium, there seems to be a mediocre song to cancel it out, diluting the overall impact of the album in the process.  Additionally, the album suffers from a bit of a sequencing flaw, as there is not really a cohesive flow to a lot of the tracks, which makes Stadium Arcadium sound more like a collection of songs thrown together as opposed to a unified, solid album.

But as previously mentioned, Stadium Arcadium boasts some fantastic songs.  The opener "Dani California" is one of the catchiest Chili Peppers songs ever (which is really saying something), and features some lights-out guitar by John Frusciante, who by the way puts on an absolute clinic throughout the entire album.  Frusciante really pulls out all the stops on this album, channeling one of his main influences, Jimi Hendrix, in the process.  No doubt Jimi would be proud of John's blazing solos on this album.  They are really impressive to listen to amidist the all the catchy pop-rock found on Stadium Arcadium.

And it is understandable how you might get distracted by all the catchy songs on Stadium Arcadium and not even realize that Frusciante is putting on a clinic on guitar, as most of the tracks on the album are absolute ear-candy.  Take "Snow (Hey Oh)" for example.  This song has such a sweet melody and an engaging chorus that you might not notice the intricate interplay between Frusciante and Flea, which is really fantastic on this song.  As on more recent albums, the band manages to produce a strong and intense emotional feeling on this track, steadily building throughout the song and ending with a great guitar solo by Frusciante.  Possibly the best song on the album and definitely one of the Chili Pepper's best songs period.

The next track "Charlie" sports a funky, light-hearted vibe with a catchy and endearing chorus.  And once again, Frusciante provides a lights-out solo to close out the song.  Another highlight.  The Chili's also get back in touch with their funk roots on the infectious "Hump de Bump" which features some cool tribal drumming a trumpet provided by Flea.  A very cool, fun song.  "She's Only 18" is another highlight off the Jupiter disc, sporting a very cool, low-key, almost bluesy sound.  "Especially In Michigan" brings the pop-rock goods as well, sounding similar to "Fortune Faded" (a very catchy song from their Greatest Hits album.)

But perhaps the best song on the Jupiter disc is the spare and subdued "Slow Cheetah".  An acoustic ballad, "Slow Cheetah" effectively captures the strong emotional feeling that are apart of so many Chili Pepper classics.  Its got a haunting stillness to it, and a somewhat spiritual quality. This song is under the radar for a lot of folks, but it is an absolute gem and easily one of the best songs on the album, as well as one of the best songs of the band's career.  Who says you can't make catchy songs that are also compelling at the same time?  "Slow Cheetah" is a good example of that.

After a few underwhelming tracks to close out the Jupiter disc, the Mars disc opens up with the weighty and yearning "Desecration Smile".  Then the band kicks up the tempo with "Tell Me Baby" which is a good old-fashioned Chili Peppers funk-rock song, featuring Kiedis's patented rapping and a very catchy chorus to boot.  "21st Century" follows, which is also a very cool song with some funky bass playing from Flea. 

The Chili's then reach back into their "romantic" bag of tricks with the incredibly sweet "She Looks To Me" which is in the same vein as "I Could Die for You" from By The Way.  It's another highlight on the album, accentuating the bands sensual style.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is "Readymade" which features a hard-rocking, almost headbanging groove that is almost impossible not to bob your head to.  It's got a deep, raunchy, powerful groove.  Another great song with a unique style.

"Make You Feel Better" is another quality track, sporting an uplifting and endearing vibe.  The same could also be said for "So Much I" which isn't a standout track, but it certainly isn't filler either.  It's quality.

The band saves perhaps their most interesting songs for the end of the album, starting with the warm and intimate "We Believe", which kind of has a trippy vibe.  "Turn It Again" follows, which features Frusciante's longest, most blazing guitar solo he's ever cut to an album.  It is pretty impressive to listen to and once again shows that Frusciante is one of the best guitar players of his generation.  Lights-out good.

The last song on the album "Death of a Martian" sounds appropriately other-worldly in quality, sporting a spacey, mellow vibe.  Kiedis finishes the song with an epic stream-of-consciousness rap which ends the album on a wickedly righteous note.

So overall, Stadium Arcadium features some of the band's best songs of their career, and the double-album format allows them to explore a lot of different sounds and vibes throughout the album.  On the flipside however, the Chili's kind of sound like they're on cruise-control on Stadium Arcadium, like they're going through the motions.  They're good motions, mind you, but it doesn't sound like they're really pushing themselves into exciting new territory as much as their just doing what they do best at this point in their career: making catchy, endearing, funk-rock songs.

And overall, they can't really be faulted for that.  The band are old pros at this stage of the game, and although listening to Stadium Arcadium straight-through in one sitting can be a somewhat daunting process, the album does have some undeniably great songs, and plenty of good songs too with enough variety to make Stadium Arcadium yet another high-quality Chili Peppers release.

8.9

Californication

Red Hot Chili Peppers

1999

Prior to 1999, a lot of people had given up on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  The decade started out on a great note, as the band released the best album of their career in 1991.  But the rest of the decade was not a good one for the band.  Shortly after the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and the subsequent tour that followed, John Frusciante abruptly quit the band, slowly descending into a nasty heroin addiction that nearly killed him in the following years. 

This left the Chili's with a seriously huge void to fill, so the band recruited former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro for their next album One Hot Minute.  It took the band over 4 years to release the album, and during that time Anthony Kiedis relapsed into heroin addiction after years of sobriety.  That, along with the addition of Navarro, who's style differed greatly from the band's, resulted in an uneven, disappointing album that received very little in the way of positive reviews upon it's release.

Fast-forward to 1998, the band had fired Navarro and were once again left without a guitar player, basically on the verge of breaking up.  Meanwhile John Frusciante had cleaned up his drug addiction, and was subsequently asked to rejoin the band, an invitation that he gladly accepted.

So roughly 8 years after the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the original recording lineup for that album were finally reunited, and the result was the critically acclaimed Californication.  One might think that having the original lineup back together would result in a similar sound and vibe to their last outing, but that is not really the case with Californication.  Whereas Blood Sugar Sex Magik was raunchy and raw in sound, Californication sounds poppy and polished by comparison.  This sound is not all that surprising considering the fact that the band was now 8 years older and more mature as a result.  There was also a lot riding on this album after the disappointing One Hot Minute, so the band seems intent on focusing more on the melodic aspects of their sound and trying to make the most well-rounded, catchy songs as possible.

But despite the polished, poppy sound on the album, the Chili's sound rejuvenated and fresh throughout, and no song better captures that spirit of renewal than the opening track "Around the World".  The band comes blasting out of the speakers full-throttle to start off the song, making clear that the Chili's are back and ready to rock.  The song (like the rest of the album) is catchy as hell, featuring all the trademark ingredients that make a great Chili Peppers song: Kiedis's rapping, Flea's funky bass, Chad laying down a tight beat, and John's much missed melodic guitar textures.  It's a Chili Pepper's classic and a fantastic way to start off the album.

The following track "Parallel Universe" is sonically and melodically spectacular, and is definately one of the best singles on the album, which is really saying something considering the numerous high-quality singles found on Californication.  Take the next song "Scar Tissue" for example.  A very mellow and somber track, it tries to capture the softly spare and melodic vibe of such classics as "Under the Bridge" and "Soul to Squeeze" and does a pretty damn good job of it in the process.  It's a really beautiful song, not quite as good as the aforementioned classics, but it is still nonetheless one of the Chili's best ballads to date.

Another great single is the dark and gripping "Otherside" which is also spare and somber in tone.  Its very effective, sporting more beautiful melodies but with a dark undercurrent running throughout the track.  The album's title track also features a beautifully intricate melody as well, making it one of the best known and most successful singles on the album.

The singles are really compelling to listen to, especially when they were first released, as at the time, the Chili's hadn't really fully explored their melodic tendencies.  These songs sound fully realized with a borderline epic quality to them, and it was exciting to hear the newly rejoined band harnessing their full melodic potential.

But the album is not all about melody and ballads.  The Chili's really shine through when they explode out of the speakers on such tracks as the hard-rocking "Get on Top" and the uplifting/catchy "Easily".  They also don't forget to bring the funk on tracks like "Purple Stain" which frankly rivals any of their older material as one of the funkiest songs they ever wrote.  Flea's bassline is disgusting on this song.

Ultimately though, the Chili's are at their most compelling in their more emotionally weighty songs.  Many of the singles capture that feeling, and tracks like "This Velvet Glove" and "Savior" really add a strong emotional dynamic to the album.  And the two softest tracks on the album "Porcelain" and "Road Trippin" add an extra layer of sensitivity and warmth to the album, making it feel like a more intimate listening experience.

On Californication, the Chili's sound like a group of old friends who have been to hell and back and survived, finally reunited after several dark years to once again make beautiful music together again.  They sound grateful, reflective, and indebted to each other, which gives the album a uniquely warm, sensitive, and endearing quality.

Californication marked the beginning of a new era for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one that put to rest the wild, raunchy, and hard-partying vibe of years past and gave birth a new, sober, poppier band with a squeaky clean image.  And although many of us miss the "good ole days" when the Chili's were more cutting-edge and raw in sound, the band's new focus on the melody would yield some undeniably positive results in the coming years, and would be further explored more deeply on the band's next album By The Way.

9.3

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