This feature originally ran in late 2014. Read on to see how The Getaway stacks up against the band’s celebrated catalog.
We’ve seen many faces represent the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both in the metaphorical and literal sense of the word. The world watched as the band made the transition from cock-sock punks to stadium-packing icons. Theirs is a storied discography, one that connects generations and seemingly antipathetic peers. The longevity and sustained relevance of the Chilis is quite the feat, to say the least.
It’s significant when a band can bridge such a variety of gaps: gaps between parent and child, between the music junkie and the passive fan, between the pierced and tatted and the straight-laced and buttoned-up. Common ground is the ultimate blessing music can bestow upon diverse groups of people. Where, for a minute, we forget our discordant nature and simply share an appreciation with another human being. The fact that I can still feel something when Anthony Kiedis sings about the “scar tissue that I wish you saw” — despite how many times I’ve heard it — is testament to this notion.
Even as I sit here listening to select fractals of their discography to put me in the mood, I’m immediately taken back to another time: It’s 2006, I’m in 10th grade, and Stadium Arcadium has just come out. To this point, my musical digestion had consisted of the whims of my peers and the occasional guilty pleasure kept to myself. Cliched as it sounds, I fell in love with “Dani California”. Then, casually, the entire album and finally RHCP altogether. And that was it: my first sustained musical boner, one that has yet to go soft. This band was my entry point into the depths of music and my interest in all it can offer. Radiohead, Animal Collective, Black Flag, Fugazi … I’m not sure I would have gotten there if it wasn’t for RHCP. They are the lowest common denominator many of us share, a sentiment that echoes loudly in a world where genres swallow fans whole and put them at odds with each other.
As with all careers spanning three decades, there have been peaks and troughs. Perhaps the last couple releases did not take many risks, a fact that has caused many of my professional contemporaries to sour on the Chili Peppers. This polarization, however, has caused some to lose sight of how we got here. That’s where we come in: to give you a tidy list of where the Peppers went right, where they went less right, and hopefully to engender the same glowing nostalgia running through my fingertips as they glide across these keys.
11. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984)
Finally back to where it all began: fast-paced, instrumental punk-funk weighed down by Anthony Kiedis’ undeveloped vocal skill and confidence. Chock-full of songs to make you feel like you’re loaded at some sketchy DIY venue in 1980s Los Angeles. “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes” and “Get Up and Jump” stand out as reminders of just how long Flea has been able to slap bass with reckless abandon. If we turn our gaze forward and squint really hard, I still don’t think there is any way to see 2016 RHCP from here. –Kevin McMahon
10. Freaky Styley (1985)
Any way you cut it, Freaky Styley hangs out pretty low on the list of Red Hot Chili Pepper records. But its ineffectualness is understandable. Every band has to start some place, and Freaky Styley is a member of that embryonic trio of records (along with the band’s 1984 self-titled debut and 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan) that saw the band scrambling to find their identity. On some tracks, they want to be Parliament (“American Ghost Dance”), and on others they’re more tied to their punk rock roots (“Catholic School Girls Rule”). Eventually, the band would iron out its assorted influences into a seamless sound all their own, but that time was a long ways away still. Less than a record, Freaky Styley feels more like a curious history lesson of what a great band once was before it found its stride. –Ryan Bray
09. I’m with You (2011)
My thoughts on most Chili Peppers records align pretty squarely with popular opinion. That said, I’m with You, the band’s 10th outing, might be where I fork left while others follow straight. If anything, I’m with You is another piece of evidence I can add to the case I’m building that the Chilis largely go as far as John Frusciante will take them (the Dave Navarro-aided One Hot Minute being an exception to that loose rule). All due respect to Josh Klinghoffer, but I’m with You suffers from Frusciante’s absence. Too much of the record feels like warmed-over Chili Peppers cuts from yesteryear. It starts with lead track “Monarchy of Roses”, marred by weird distortion and some curious vocal affects, and the mess just sort of trickles downward. Maybe the band just needs another record or two to find their footing again, and they deserve the luxury of some time to get their shit back together. But it’s hard not to look at I’m with You as anything other than what it is: a rare late-period misstep. –Ryan Bray
08. The Getaway (2016)
The Chili Peppers’ 11th and latest record isn’t even a week old, which puts it at something of a disadvantage when it comes to a proper ranking and filing of the band’s work. But even with its very recent arrival, The Getaway has already carved out a unique niche for itself within the band’s catalog. As Dan Caffery pointed out in his review, this is the least Chili Peppers-sounding record the Chili Peppers have ever done, a trait that can be pretty squarely attributed to Danger Mouse’s seat behind the board as producer. The ambient guitar and piano on “Dark Necessities” feel like an unprecedented creative turn away from the band’s rhythmic alt-funk, as does Josh Klinghoffer’s Radiohead-like post-rock guitar on “Goodbye Angels”. The jury’s no doubt still out on whether this moodier, art-rock lean is a good fit for the Chili Peppers, but it’s definitely interesting, especially for a hall of fame-anointed band now more than 30 years into its career. –Ryan Bray
07. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)
We are officially back in the old days. Hillel Slovak is on guitar, and Jack Irons is behind the kit. What resulted from the only studio offering to exclusively feature the four founding Peppers is the quintessential, eclectic punk album. Incorporating elements of reggae, metal, and psychedelia, it’s the first album where RHCP’s talent plainly shines through. Perhaps there is no better example than “Behind the Sun”, the first sample of anything not inherently punk from the band. What it shows is the beginning of the professionalism and confidence a band needs to take serious directional risks (and have them pay off). It is also a tragic moment for extrapolation to an alternate universe where Hillel survives and stays with RHCP for the long haul. –Kevin McMahon
06. Stadium Arcadium (2006)
One step further up the ladder we find Stadium Arcadium, an album that by all accounts is still graceful and action-packed. However, the action is packed into moments of the album, not its entire constitution. This could be a negligible critique if it weren’t for the double album’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Songs like “If”, “Warlocks”, and “21st Century”, to name a few, quickly blend into the ambiguous mass, diluting some of its more poignant moments. Luckily, there is no law stating that a listener must sit through a whole album every time he or she wants to hear some music. Thus, Stadium Arcadium holds plenty of awesome songs worth frequent revisits. –Kevin McMahon
05. By the Way (2002)
By the Way is the drying liquid cement of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It cemented their reincarnation following the unbridled success of Californication. By the Way moves RHCP into a heavy, melody-centric focus of emotion. A strategy delineated by John Frusciante’s eagerness to diverge from the largely funk-based tracks of old. “Don’t Forget Me”, “Tear”, “Dosed”, and “I Could Die for You” were all immediately nestled into RHCP ballad history. So was the rest of the album, complemented by Anthony Kiedis’ (at the time) uncharacteristically sensitive lyrics.
However, By the Way also began the cementing of the current formula for Chili Peppers music. One that while amazingly appealing also becomes sonically narrow. Nitpicking this album is fruitless; there are no total duds. But we are left with an immeasurably small feeling of sameness, a feeling that becomes more apparent in the years that follow. –Kevin McMahon
04. Mother’s Milk (1989)
Words like “best” and “worst” are labels that are hard to quantify. What’s great to one person might not be so hot to the next and vice versa. However, the significance or influence of a particular record in a band’s catalog is easier to gauge with some degree of certainty. Mother’s Milk isn’t quite the Chili Peppers’ finest hour, but it’s no doubt the point in their career where they turned the corner toward becoming alt rock superstars. While much of the record is still locked into the band’s alternative/metal/hip-hop period, it’s easy to see them starting to refine their sound on other tracks.
“Knock Me Down” is perhaps the band’s most underrated single, one that winks and nudges the listener toward the spastic, alt-funk sound the band would claim as their own just a few short years later. It’s just as difficult to overlook the band’s manic cover of “Higher Ground”, which to fans of a certain age (ahem, mine) is a musical rite of passage and every bit as recognizable as Stevie Wonder’s original. While they weren’t quite ready to shed their former skin, you could tell by listening to Mother’s Milk that it was only a matter of time before the Chili Peppers evolved into a completely new musical animal. –Ryan Bray
03. One Hot Minute (1995)
Here we have the gloriously sore thumb on the 11-fingered hand of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Although frequently overlooked due to John Frusciante’s absence, One Hot Minute completes the discography in more ways than one. It certainly touts its share of classic tracks, from the psychedelic beauty of “Aeroplane” to the down-tempo ballad “My Friends” to the perfect aural projection of a quick high in “Deep Kick”. One Hot Minute is RHCP’s most diverse album within and without. It constantly swells with blood and drains as the non-linear progression of tempo throws listeners through a loop. We come up and down several times — likely as the drug-infused nature of the album intended.
Most importantly, it serves as an outlier in the otherwise predictable parabola of RHCP albums. The meandering makes the journey from funk punk to stadium rock interesting. One Hot Minute finds us in the midst of a free-fall off the wagon. On the way down, we pass through an S&M parlor (run by Dave Navarro). Falling further, we absorb the downright scary nature of the dark side of psychedelic rock. Our entire plummet accompanied by arguably Flea’s most compelling and forceful album performance, top to bottom. –Kevin McMahon
02. Californication (1999)
Fairly or unfairly, the Chili Peppers needed a blockbuster hit with Californication. Its predecessor, 1995’s One Hot Minute, fared fine artistically with the services of Dave Navarro on guitar in place of John Frusciante, but it fell pretty far short of the high commercial bar set by Blood Sugar Sex Magik. But with a sobered-up Frusciante back at the wheel, the Chilis quickly rediscovered their formula for massive critical and commercial success. Californication was the band’s glorious second coming.
A record that honed their knack for funky eclecticism while taking a generous leap in songwriting maturity, Californication boasted no less than five singles, most of them (“Scar Tissue”, “Californication”, “Otherside”) standing out as some of the very best tunes in their already studded arsenal. In an era dominated by boy bands and teen pop, the Chilis proved that there was still room in the late ’90s music landscape for sharply crafted pop rock. –Ryan Bray
01. Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Shocking pick for the one spot, I get it. But 23 years later, it’s hard to argue that Blood Sugar Sex Magik doesn’t represent the Chilis at the absolute peak of their freakish funk rock powers. After seven years and four records worth of toiling in the underground, Rick Rubin helped the band deliver its massive breakthrough in waiting. Never has the band sounded so kinetic, so eclectic, and so completely in the moment as they do on their 1991 smash, which boasted not only token rock radio hits (“Suck My Kiss”, “Breaking the Girl”), but also generational milestones (“Under the Bridge”, “Give It Away”). Everything they did before this record was prelude, and everything that followed was doomed to have to live up to its insanely high standards. Few records in the ’90s rock canon hit harder than this, one of the true enduring statements of the alternative era. –Ryan Bray