When comedian Jon Daly’s Red Hot Chili Peppers parody started circulating, many fans (and haters) mistook it for the real deal. At first, that sounds like a putdown to RHCP, a confirmation that their style is all too easily imitated: the overly slapped bass, the freewheeling guitar harmonics, the sex-freak rip-rap-rippity-doing lyrics. But the fact that they’ve even created a style so ripe for parody is a compliment in itself. Daly was able to gently spoof the Peppers because their music doesn’t sound quite like anyone else’s. Love ’em or hate ’em, you know an RHCP song when you hear it.
And if we’re being fair, the Peps have been more than their tattooed-caveman-dick image would have one think for quite a while now. Starting with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, every record has bounced between funk-laden goofiness and melodic introspection, with each subsequent album veering more towards the latter trait. Still, their horndog image will always nip at their heels, and not always in ways that are amusing either. It’s telling that, in 2016 — a time when RHCP’s music has never been further from the “Sir Psycho Sexy”-isms of old — there’s never been more (admittedly hilarious) comedy directed at (and sometimes involving) the band.
With all that in mind, it makes sense that they’d only continue the musical reinvention that started after John Frusciante’s departure in 2009. I doubt the Chili Peppers personally give a shit about song parodies, but it’s always good to remind people that they have a softer side. It’s good to remind people that they aren’t defined solely by their prodigiously talented former guitarist, or that their just as prodigiously talented forever bassist can’t be kept down by a snowboarding injury.
Their universally shrugged-off last album, I’m With You, attempted to fulfill all these goals, but like One Hot Minute before it, even its more exuberant moments were sometimes too dreary and hesitant to convince detractors that there was life after Froosh. Perhaps that’s why their eleventh LP, The Getaway, is even more minimalistic and quiet, haunted by Danger Mouse production that recalls the more nocturnal side of L.A. — the side where the neon pulses instead of blinds, the side occupied by the Drive soundtrack. Simply put, it’s the least the Red Hot Chili Peppers have sounded like the Red Hot Chili Peppers in … well … ever.
That sleeker, cybernetic disposition announces itself from the very beginning. The title track doesn’t start with a thunderous belch of fuzz bass like Californication, but someone vocally imitating the hiss of a cymbal. Palm-muted guitar lines spin from the strings of Josh Klinghoffer — sounding more at home here being understated than trying to imitate Frusciante — Anthony Kiedis sings more than he raps, a cameo from That Dog’s Anna Waronker adds to the HAIMness of it all, and that’s about it. Lead single “Dark Necessities” continues the flirtation with steely R&B, as does “The Longest Wave” and the hibernating “Encore”, where Chad Smith’s percussion never gets louder than a kick drum and some handclaps. The lyrics are like they’ve usually been the past few years: half nonsensical, half filled with cosmic-minded wisdom, and (thankfully) nary a “cuntilla” or “Hump de Bump” to be heard, although Kiedis does get to fuck a robot on the disco-assed “Go Robot”.
Oddly enough, The Getaway starts to flounder whenever RHCP revert back to their old habits. “Goodbye Angels” and “Feasting On the Flowers” both break the night-stalking groove by placing more emphasis on capital-“R” rock and Kiedis’ rapping (he once again hey ohs his way through the former), and “Detroit” — while noble in its sympathy with the frontman’s home state — stays tethered to clumsy distortion that’s also at odds with the rest of the production. And, in the one genre experiment gone sour, Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s cowriting credit on “Sick Love” makes it sound like nothing more than a reggae karaoke cover of “Bennie and the Jets”.
So, while the band doesn’t commit to reinvention quite fully enough to make The Getaway the knock-down drag-out comeback it wants to be, it’s refreshing to see them try. Just look at that closing track. A Red Hot Chili Peppers song titled “Dreams of a Samurai” should be remarkably silly, and yet its sex-and-death hallucination digs deep into ear canals via white noise and honest-to-god jazz improvisation from Smith. I repeat, an RHCP tune called “Dreams of a Samurai” is both lyrically adventurous and musically evocative. Looks like the joke’s on us.
Essential Tracks: “The Getaway”, “Dark Necessities”, and “Dreams of a Samurai”