“Hey man whatcha listening to?” A teenager interrogates me in the yellow box headed past junior high.
“It’s an album called Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” I reply to the stranger on our first ride towards sophomore year of high school.
“What?” The fledgling replies with a singular word and look of distaste on his face—as if he’d just seen his parents poking each other for the first time in the bedroom adjacent to his.
“It’s by a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” I answer while putting my ear buds back in. I’m clicking the button on my CD player skipping tracks of an album recorded fifteen years prior.
A lot of time has passed between the provenance of this recording and the present day. I think to myself while peaking through a single pane of glass, a partition separating me from confinement and the freedom of adulthood. The real world seems so much more enticing than this hot box filled with vociferous interrogators wondering what the quiet boy in the back of the bus is listening to in his lonesome; but it doesn’t matter, as long as the circular-shaped technology between my hands keeps spinning CDs of the past, I’m happy as can be.
Fast-forward ten years to the present day.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have just released their latest album entitled The Getaway. The current/regular lineup of musicians (Anthony Keidis: Vocals, Flea: Bass, Chad Smith: Drums, and Josh Klinghoffer: Guitar) has altered as much as the music since the band’s self-titled album was released in 1983. The newest addition to the RHCP’s lengthy discography is full of fresh perspectives. Lead singer Anthony Keidis discusses the album’s single “Dark Necessities”:
It [“Dark Necessities”] kind of speaks to the beauty of our dark sides and how much creativity and growth and light actually comes out of those… Uhm, difficult struggles that we have on the inside of our heads that no one else can see.
Without a doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have viewed their dark sides, especially, the front man himself. Anyone who’s read Keidis’ book Scar Tissue (2004) is aware of the incessant drug-addictions and bereavements he’s had to trudge through the past forty-plus decades. Having traversed the mire of old times, the band has come terms with getting older while still possessing the energy needed to pump out new albums on a regular basis.
The Getaway (2016) is not a paradigm shift from RHCP’s previous albums. In fact, it borrows sonorities from their 2002 release of By the Way. Different, however, a producer known as Danger Mouse has taken over controls previously manned by the illustrious Rick Ruben. What’s the difference? To my ears, the hallmarks of this new album are highlighted by the use of truncated phrases, pockets of mellifluous integrity, lyrics extending phrases into brief, instrumental breakdowns, and, in general, the strength of the lyrics.
For instance, the tune “Feasting On The Flowers” contains a brief instrumental breakdown at the end of each verse that works to extend each phrase. Interesting, the use of piano is prominent throughout the tune; it works to provide pockets of sonic variety. Finally, the lyrics of the tune seem to express Keidis’ dark past. Is such a lyrics as, “I was walking through the streets I could not hear my best friend call–He was feeling incomplete about to take his final fall—Last thing I remember there were tears of blood and just not mine,” call to mind the bereavement Keidis went through in dealing with the death of his best friend—and, founding member of the RHCP—Hillel Slovak—he died of a heroine overdose in 1988. The chorus lyrics to “Feasting On The Flowers” seem to speak through the apparition of Keidis’ old friend: “Feasting on the flowers, so fast and young—It’s a light so bright that I bite my tongue—I do and I don’t, well I do and I don’t, oh yea—The next dimension, show me in.”
Lyrical interpretations are subjective. I wouldn’t dare say my interpretation is anything beyond speculation. More accurate, the lyrical content is, at times, simply forlorn. For instance, the second to last track on the album (“The Hunter”) is a bluesy tune that discusses human mortality. The discussion goes as follows: as time goes by, old age hunts youth; in the end, physical and mental deterioration tests the youthful spirit in all of us; or, as Anthony Kiedis puts it, “Time gets its way, Strawberries left to decay.” The 53-year old vocalist hasn’t lost his spark. He’s just writing lyrics that dive further into the pool of melancholy.
In my estimation, the lyrical content expressed within the album’s thirteen tracks reinvents the parody on which “Dark Necessities” is drawn. The album cover belies the album’s pastiche of Terry Gilkyson 1967 song “The Bare Necessities.” Kevin Peterson’s artwork displays a young, innocent girl walking in-step with a large black bear and a couple other woodland creatures on a city sidewalk, as is the clan is abandoning the city for a simpler life somewhere in Big Sur. The lyrics of “The Bare Necessities” tell the story:
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature’s recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life
The Red Hot Chili Peppers seem to have found their current state of Zen. While time continues on and the “strawberries decay,” the band continues to exude their youthful spirit by refusing to where t-shirts, as if they were trying to Getaway to the forest to live a simpler life, one that requires only “The Bare Necessities.” If so, they may at least want to put on some bug spray. It’s summer and the mosquitos are biting in Big Sur.