The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ sound has always added different touches and flavors as their lineup changed—Hillel Slovak provided more pure funk; John Frusciante gave the band a melodic edge; Dave Navarro a heavier, almost psychedelic side—but this group, the one with former Gnarls Barkley, Beck, and Christina Aguilera guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, is the first lineup aside from the one with Frusciante to have made two albums together (three if you include the dreadful B-side collection I’m Beside You). After I’m With You proved that they’re still capable of making four-chord, half-gibberish choruses, the Chili Peppers did something they haven’t done since 1989’s Mother’s Milk: use a producer other than Rick Rubin. Behind the boards this time was Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse.
That might stand as the best decision the band’s made since Frusciante left, as Burton pushes them into more of a ’70s sound with both soft R&B (usually good here) and hard dance (usually bad here) being represented. Anthony Kiedis’ libido-driven alteration of the English language remains like it always has, still rapping about sex in a car in California on “The Getaway,” still listing people from the town he’s rapping about on “Detroit.” But these fallacies are at their tamest in years, and are particularly de-emphasized in the first half of the album, where three of Burton’s five co-writing credits appear.
The producer isn’t the only one to get a co-write: The biggest treat of the album comes in the form of a densely packed ditty called “Sick Love” with co-writing credits to Elton John and his lyrical partner, Bernie Taupin. It’s an outright treat to hear the group play straightforward ’70s pop fleshed out with neo-soul production, a beautifully choppy guitar part that sounds like a kite in flight, Elton John himself banging on piano, and some half-decent lyrics. These new elements give the Chili Peppers more of an appeal than they’ve had in years.
But the band has the same limits they’ve always had. The tame, disco-fried band they’ve become is the only group you’ll hear on the second half of the album, and the instrumental moments that provide redemption wear thin as Kiedis dampens their purpose. (For example, the Queen-like breakdown to “This Ticonderoga” emphasizes the band’s cheesiness like a dated meme in the middle of a serious discussion.) It’ll always be disappointing that, even as a father with Dad-humor taste and wrestling skills, Kiedis is still more likely to rap about his sexual harassment days than anything profoundly meaningful, but that was never a hang-up for its fans anyway. The strengths remain in the three musicians behind him; the weaknesses play no more of a role than they always have. What makes The Getaway different is Burton’s push into a more soul-driven arena, giving the Peppers’ brand of vanilla pop a slightly stronger taste.