Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Jump Off the Danger Mouse Cliff and Soar with a Bipolar Polaroid-ish Trip in "The Getaway"

The first time I heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers was in 1984. I was watching MTV and the video for "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes" and I remember thinking how absolutely crazy they looked and sounded. Their debut self titled album was produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill who butted heads with the band and their raw sound. The result was cleaner but less potent. It was an impressive beginning but that first effort was definitely producer driven.

Fast Forward 32 years later and the Peppers' latest "The Getaway" is very much a producer driven record as well. This time  the man at the helm is producer Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse and, amazingly, this record was mixed by Nigel Godrich. Now while back in 1984 I am sure that the Peppers felt like they sold their soul a bit but this time Kiedis and the boys gladly "jumped off the cliff" as he has said about giving themselves up to Burton.

Fate is funny. If it were not for Flea breaking his arm while snowboarding "The Getaway" would not exist. Prior to this delay, the band had penned 30 songs to pick from until Flea's unfortunate accident. That stall turned into the band hooking up with Burton who summarily discarded all but 4 of those songs and talked the band into writing brand new material in the studio. Oftentimes after a musical bed was finished Kiedis had to write lyrics and vocal melodies overnight to keep up with the pace. It is a daunting way to create but the Peppers never being a band to not take chances, they gave themselves up to the process. Did the gamble pay off. Yes. In a big way.

For Red Hot Chili Peppers fans there might be dissenters but all I ask is that you listen to the album at least 4 times as it is the kind of album that has the band exploring different flavors. Take Sick Love that has the Kiedis soft bump and grind bounce but the almost light jazz rhythms make the track feel like an almost 70's syrupy sweet song that works. The heavy bass bottom saves it from a mid-range pop death. It has an expansive sound as much as a wonderful chill sway. We Turn Red veers into a more Pepper's formula trading heavy rock funk lines that give way to those pretty Kiedis sea faring hippie stuff. I always think of Anthony as a soul with a true 60's hippie heart.

The album's wave your arms in the air track is The Longest Wave. It's got the Kiedis bump again but Burton's production elevates the song into a soaring love gone wrong Polaroid-ish psychedelic trip. The line "under my skin and half my age" obviously refers to Anthony's break up with his young model girlfriend. When I first heard Goodbye Angels Josh Klinghoffer's guitar work sounded very Radiohead-ish. He kicks ass on this song (as he does all throughout the album) with very sweet ascensions on the neck and half step flourishes. Chad and Flea seriously jam as well. Love this song and cannot to hear it live.

Feasting On The Flowers is not a bad song but just doesn't grab me and I blame the production mostly. It has this too glossy vocal spread on the chorus that for whatever made me think of the Eagles, of Hotel California and Supertramp. I know that is weird. This song just feels too derivative for me. That is not saying it is a bad song. It is not. It is a good song but it feels too safe for the band. I suspect that I will like them performing it live. Detroit also has a beginning basic prog but is so jammy that and falls into this amazing glam-ish chorus that I fell in love with it. I thought of Wires on Fire and Rage Against the Machine. This song is going to kick some major ass live.

This Ticonderoga is a good bookend to Detroit even though it is totally bipolar. It has an indie-psychedelic meets glam aesthetic one minute (like Thee Oh Sees meets Ty Segall) and then Jekyll  and Hyde's into a kind of Foxygen tone. Very strange. I admit that it took me a while to "get it"- get the bipolar-ness, the ying and yang of it. I recently saw The Peppers perform it live and NOW I get it. It is actually brilliant in it's push and pull and it's sensibility matches the bands diverse edges. It muscially punches you and then kisses the bruises. Encore has so many references to the 70's, it is a wanderlusty song. It strikes a very middle of the road stance and commits to it.

The last two tracks are a total surprise. The Hunter could of been a song on Elton John's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album. It has a honky tonk sway to it and a romantic streak "strawberries left to decay"- c'mon this is such a daring departure for the Chili Peppers. There is a fucking dreamy horn and strings. This could be the next Bond theme. The last track on the album Dreams Of A Samurai blends together a lot of tones. I thought of Cowboy Be Bop and Crosby Stills and Nash's track Cathedral and 70's UK prog jazz rock Nektar. It is part pop fusion and a spaghetti Western.

Maybe the standout track at least from a pop sense is the invigorating epic Dark Necessities that does everything absolutely right. It is the perfect marriage between producer and band. The bass is epic Flea, the rhymes and melodies is epic Kiedis, Josh Klinghoffer's leads are elegant and burn in your head and Chad doesn't over play or under play. He is perfect.

There are only two songs that simply don't speak to me, The Getaway and Go Robot. While the title track is a slick piece of work. It has a heavy producer hand on it which for me felt like the band was saying from the get go that this album was going to be different and very produced. I must say that it turned me off a bit because I so love the Peppers raw emotion and power and here they felt measured. What really alarmed me was the clicky trackness of the song. As you can garner from my previous comments, the rest of the album opened up (for me) and feels much more alive, more emotional. Go Robot sounds like song on a Styx or Alan Parson's Project album or maybe even Duran Duran. I must say that I do absolutely love the guitar work on it. This is another song that might make more sense to me live. Maybe the production muted the emotion here.

In the final analysis, "The Getaway" is a great album. The majority of the songs explore new facets of a band that has always taken chances, always evolved. What is so stellar about the majority of these songs is not only the big framework but the nuances hiding in the spaces. The guitar sounds, the delicate drum fills, Kiedis' emotional almost mournful phrasings and Fleas masterful bass lines. That man is amazing. All these nuances are like the little scars around the large ones. Scars from so many trips that celebrates music as the journey of live. Give this album a listen. I think you will love the journey.

Robb Donker