How Flea Became The Most Important Member Of Red Hot Chili Peppers

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At the end of the 2000s, Red Hot Chili Peppers were left with a troubling circumstance: John Frusciante was leaving the band once again, and this time, his departure appeared to be permanent. Since re-joining the band in the late ’90s, Frusciante had become indispensable to the band, as his virtuosic playing added extra layers to classics like “Under The Bridge,” “Scar Tissue,” and “Dani California.” The band found a solid replacement in Josh Klinghoffer, an accomplished guitarist who had appeared on Frusciante’s solo albums in the past, but while Klinghoffer has been a strong addition to the band, it’s since become clear that the driving instrument behind the Peppers is Flea’s booming bass.

In 2011, the band released I’m With You, their first album without Frusciante. It was a transitional album to be sure, but one with rewarding moments for those who were willing to look for them. The first single released from the album was “The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie,” and while that song suffered from lyrics that were goofy even by Anthony Kiedis’ standards, it had a clearly established sound, as Flea’s bass riff powered the song all the way through. Klinghoffer’s guitar was adding neat little touches in the background, but the bass was driving everything, more so than it had for the Peppers since their funky ’80s heyday.

When I’m With You was released, it was clear that this was no outlier, as the funky vibes continued throughout the album. Tracks like “Look Around” and “Monarchy of Roses” looked back to the funk-inspired sound that had been somewhat altered in favor of more straightforward rock tracks and ballads upon the release of Californication. One could likely chalk some of this up to seniority; Klinghoffer was the new kid, Flea had been there since day one; of course his instrument was playing a more predominant part in the band’s sound. But really, none of this was a knock on Klinghoffer; he was still adding an element to the group’s overall mix, he was just doing it as a bit of role player.

Last week, the band released The Getaway, their first album of new material in five years, and there was naturally a lot of speculation about what direction the band would go in. Happily, the result is a strong, self-assured set of material that feels like a natural and adventurous extension of I’m With You. While that album had occasionally great moments, it was hard not to notice that the band had been caught in the middle of an awkward moment of their development. With Frusciante gone, the sound and dynamic they had been cultivating ever since the late ’90s had too departed, and they essentially had to start over. On I’m With You‘s best moments, you could tell they had something, but they were still putting it together, but with The Getaway, it becomes quite obvious the band has worked out the kinks, and once again have a confident and muscular feel.

And perhaps, most prominently, Flea’s bass is the most prominently featured instrument for the second straight album, which we saw right away on the first two singles, “Dark Necessities” and the title track. That being said, Klinghoffer is gradually becoming more assertive, particularly on “Goodbye Angels,” where Klinghoffer plays a lovely guitar tone that carries the early portion of the song. Some of Frusciante’s best work came when he used a light touch (think “Pretty Little Ditty”), and Klinghoffer seems to understand that. He’s still not the star of the band — nor would he want to unjustly steal that spotlight — but he has carved out a definitive role for himself, and has made it undeniably clear that he is an true member of the group.

Losing any bandmate is difficult, but losing a talent on the level of John Frusciante is the type of devastating thing that would absolutely destroy a lesser band. Luckily, the Chili Peppers are too strong for that. In their nearly 35 years together, they’ve overcome countless bits of adversity, and this was no exception. Flea has become the band’s most important musician, while Josh Klinghoffer has still silenced anyone who doubted that he played a significant role in the band. The result? A new version of Red Hot Chili Peppers that should be making great music for years to come.