Having just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Stadium Arcadium this week, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are entering an unusual twilight stage of their history. The two-disc album was their most ambitious project in their 30-plus year history, adding to a discography that already features several classic records. The L.A.-based funk rock collective honestly don’t have to strum another note to solidify their place in music history, but it’s also true that the double LP was the last universally successful work of the band’s, with so many pieces of redundant work since.
Their 2011 follow-up I’m with You was not bad music by any means (a lukewarm 63 from Metacritic), but without superstar guitarist John Frusciante, the effort seemed like a watered-down collection of Stadium Arcadium leftovers. The Chili Peppers seemed to be making music for the sake of making music; while no one complained, their relevancy on the main stage was quickly fading. Even the handful of EPs that were released on the heels of Stadium Arcadium with Frusciante on guitar felt forgettable. The band began to sound formulaic and uninspired, simply switching out interchangeable lyrics, chords and riffs without any real feeling behind the music.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are at their best when they expand upon their signature style, rather than carbon copy it. Their forthcoming album, The Getaway, is a pivotal moment in the group’s history; attempting to replicate the past successes of Stadium Arcadium would demonstrate a vivid signal that their time making original work is over.
There have been many different “eras” of the Chili Peppers, demarcated by a revolving door at lead guitar (and drums until Chad Smith arrived in 1988), as well as evolving vocals and the personal maturation of Anthony Kiedis. Each of these changes have given the band different sounds and styles to match each time period. In 2016, without the longtime producer Rick Rubin for the first release since Mother’s Milk in 1989, they are primed for yet another style change, hoping to tap into that kinetic energy that has fueled a 33-year run.
A Rick Rubin-produced album would have produced a standard of quality the band would have undoubtedly enjoyed, but hitting a benchmark of passibility was exactly what they did with I’m with You. New producer Brian Burton has forced the band to re-think their approach, tossing aside an entire album’s worth of songs in search of a less formulaic, more organic sound.
For The Getaway, RHCP feel like they have a reason to make music again. Kiedis revealed a tumultuous breakup with model Helena Vestergaard as a driving force behind half of the songs on the upcoming album. Breakups rank at the top of the “excuses to make a new record” list, especially for a lead singer who has enough relationship history to write an epic about. This time around, however, Kiedis is taking a more abstract approach to his songwriting to maximize relatability. “They’re not full literal stories, because I find that a bit boring for me, personally, at this stage, writing something that’s predictable,” he told Loudwire.
Kiedis admitted that tossing aside so much music wasn’t easy, but eventually realized that switching up their routine was the best approach at this stage of their career. “The only way we saw this working was to have trust in him and get rid of our old ideas and our old way of doing things,” he told Blabbermouth.
The Getaway does not have to be their best record — with so many timeless ones under their belt, it doesn’t realistically stand a chance to be. In the shadow of such a great discography, the only way a 2016 RHCP album will be remembered is if it stands solidly on its own as a unique effort, not so much the same old, same old.
Based on the new single “Dark Necessities,” the band won’t be moving legendary bassist Flea out of the spotlight anytime soon. However, they have added some sonic twists rarely used by the band, most notably a climax-building piano in the opening chords.
For a band who has had such a tumultuous history and several successful comeback albums, Stadium Arcadium was a flex of the band’s creative power and exclamation point on their history. Now, the Chili Peppers have been knocked down one more time. The Getaway is a chance to prove that they can still get back up.