Red Hot Chili Peppers' New Album Is Band's 'Most Polarizing' One to Date

Plus, get all the information about the latest from Mumford and Sons and more.

ByABC News
June 23, 2016, 4:32 AM
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers pictured performs live at Pinkpop Festival 2016 in Landgraaf Netherlands, June 10, 2016.
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers pictured performs live at Pinkpop Festival 2016 in Landgraaf Netherlands, June 10, 2016.
Roberto Finizio/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

— -- intro: This week the Red Hot Chili Peppers return with a powerful shift in sonic direction, Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs join forces as case/lang/veirs, Canadian legends The Tragically Hip release a new record on the heels of releasing some sad news, singer-songwriter Mitski makes a very strong impression, Mumford & Sons go to South Africa and teenage metal band Unlocking The Truth make their debut. We are into summer now, and this summer deserves and is getting an excellent soundtrack.

quicklist: 1title: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “The Getaway” ****text: Without a doubt, “The Getaway” will be a polarizing album in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ discography. It is their first album without Rick Rubin in the producer’s chair since “Mother’s Milk” back in 1989. Rubin led them to their breakthrough with 1991’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” but at the same time while that album and 2002’s “By The Way” stand as the band’s best work, 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium” proved to be a double-disc effort lacking its fair share of highlights. The band’s last proper studio album, “I’m With You” in 2011, and its rarity companion, “I’m Beside You,” both didn’t get the respect they deserved. Given their volume of work with Rubin, their sound could stand to be freshened.

Enter producer Danger Mouse, known as the sonic architect behind the Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up “The Grey Album”, one-half of both Gnarles Barkley and Broken Bells, and for high-profile production work with everyone from Norah Jones to Sparklehorse. Add in Nigel Godrich (known for producing landmark albums for the likes of Radiohead and Beck) at the mixing console and you have essentially the cleanest sounding record the Peppers have ever made. Already some people have complained that this doesn’t sound like a Chili Peppers record and I would argue differently. This is the kind of record the band needed to make years ago. It’s a mature album full of rock ballads with a truly dynamic sense of sound. Sure, repeatedly throughout the record, Flea’s bass-lines echo back to their hit “Can’t Stop,” but this is the record that the success of “Under The Bridge” and the ballad-heavy “Californication” were both heading towards.

Anthony Kiedis doesn’t rap on this album, really. We instead get some of his best singing to date. “Dark Necessities” is one of the strongest tracks this band has ever made, even if Chad Smith’s drums are recorded differently than they would’ve been by Rubin, thus lacking that signature punk/funk “thwap” sound. Similarly, the title track (with its great background vocals from Anna Waronker) brings a sense of detail to the table.

Sure, there will be some folks who think that relatively still new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer can’t fill John Frusciante’s shoes, but they are wrong. Klinghoffer was Frusciante’s protégé and more than proved himself on the “I’m With You” high-point “Brendan’s Death Song.” Throughout this set, he continues to be a key asset.

Yes, there are several tracks with piano here, including a nice guest spot from none other than Elton John on “Sick Love,” which in itself sounds like an alternate universe re-reading of “Bennie And The Jets.” This is a record far removed from the punk/funk/rap hybrid the band essentially created in the early eighties. It’s a bold, detailed, surprisingly nuanced collection lacking the more sophomoric tendencies of some of the group’s earlier work. Mostly this is a glorious display of lush sonic textures that is comfortable enough to forgive some of Kiedis’ few clunky lyrical moments. For instance while “The Hunter” stumbles a little in its verses, all is forgiven once the tremendous chorus arrives.

Danger Mouse has always done well with bass-heavy records and when you have a bassist like Flea, that can only work to your benefit. No doubt, Flea must’ve made friends with Godrich playing side-by-side with him and Thom Yorke in Atoms For Peace. This record provides a supreme payoff on that end.

If you are a Chili Pepper fan who doesn’t immediately get this record, after a few spins it will probably sink in. Really, this album reminds me of another misunderstood album, Incubus’ 2011 album “If Not Now, When?” Both albums would probably earn more praise separated from expectations associated with their bands’ previous discography.

“The Getaway” is not perfect like “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” or “By The Way,” but 32 years after their debut, it finds the Chili Peppers welcoming new sonic colors into their formula. While some might decry the loss of the Rubin-led status-quo, this is the record this band needed to make.

Focus Tracks:

“Dark Necessities” It’s no shock that this song was an immediate hit. The arty, skateboard-fueled music video for the track was directed by Olivia Wilde and is also highly worth watching.

“Feasting On Flowers” This is a great hybrid between the Chilis’ funk-side and their mature melodic sense. Again, Incubus comes to mind as an apt point of comparison.

“Dreams Of A Samurai” There would have been a time when Kiedis would use lyrical imagery about standing “naked in (his girlfriend’s) kitchen” as inspiration for a crude meditation on sex. Now he realizes that the woman he is with is “too young to be (his) wife.” With an intensity that at times recalls their classic “Johnny Kick A Hole In The Sky,” this song marks a vital shift in the band’s tone.

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quicklist: 2title: Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs “case/lang/veirs” ****1/2text: The union of Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs as case/lang/veirs (stylized to match lang’s career-long lowercase obsession) is a bit like a modern-day answer to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Each performer has well established herself in her own right, but when they come together on record, they create a formidable force.

Case and lang are equally matched. Both have their roots in alt-country, but also bring a unique soulfulness. Veirs sits well between them with her ethereal folk sound. Essentially, what this album brings is the best work of all three performers, mixed in a blender. This is extremely evident from the very first listen of the incredible opener, “Atomic Number. That effect is felt in different ways throughout the set, from the lang-led, drifting “1000 Miles Away” to the slightly psychedelic “Delirium,” which finds Case in top form. The Veirs-led “Song for Judee” is named for late, enigmatic singer Judee Sill, while lang brings an effective jazzy sense to “Blue Fires.”

This set wallows in a darker side of the classic “California Sound” of the seventies. Think of a better, more effective feminine answer to Fleet Foxes without the pseudo-campfire vibe and you are close to what you get here. It is safe to say that fans of any one of these three singers, even if they happen to not know the work of the other two will find a lot to enjoy here.

With “case/lang/veirs” we get a mix we never expected and never knew we needed. This most definitely should not be a one-time exercise. This collaboration should definitely stick.

Focus Tracks:

“Atomic Number” This spot-on opener displays the benefits of this union perfectly. This is as timeless as it is thoroughly beautiful.

“Supermoon” There’s a mystical energy fueling this piece and Case’s lead vocals here give this track the sense of mystery it demands.

“Honey And Smoke” As a vocalist, k.d. lang seems as if she is from another time and this is a lush, lounge-ready example of some of her best work.

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quicklist: 3title: The Tragically Hip’s “Man Machine Poem” ****text: If you don’t know The Tragically Hip, you probably aren’t Canadian. The band has been well-celebrated up north for the last thirty years. Strangely, they’ve gotten relatively little attention down here in comparison other than a 1995 appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” My guess is that The Tragically Hip’s style is seen as too arty and cerebral for U.S. radio to embrace. They have always been a band heavier on mood than pop hooks.

Their new album, “Man Machine Poem” comes with some sad news. Lead singer Gord Downie has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The band has decided to do some small touring for this album but odds are, this is a goodbye. The announcement was made last month on their website and in turn the band has delivered a quite a reflective record, centered around the human condition and the struggle between “Man” and “Machine.” Tracks with these names bookend the record. Perhaps this approach was chosen as a statement about human frailty. Machines are less vulnerable to natural predators.

Elsewhere on the record, Downie displays his signature vocal style on tracks like “In A World Possessed By The Human Mind” and “In Sarnia.” He often sounds free and unhinged. He’s often tangential in his lyrical attacks, sometimes sounding like a male counterpart to Mary Margaret O’Hara. But this approach is obviously part of the reason for The Hip’s appeal.

Knowing about Downie’s condition, this is bittersweet. This is a strong, thought-provoking effort full of grace and sadness. Even if this wasn’t a probable goodbye, this record would still pack an emotional punch. Here’s hoping for the best for Downie in his fight.

Focus Tracks:

“Machine” Hands down, this closer is a hit waiting to happen. It’s one of the band’s most accessible tracks of their career, with some strong riff work. I dare commercial rock radio stations in the States to put this into regular rotation. It deserves to be heard.

“Man” The fuzzy, wonky computerized voice that begins the set sounds like a response to Devo’s “Mechanical Man.” One can’t help but feel true sadness listening to these two companion tracks.

“Here, In The Dark” This band has always been a tight combo and here they effortlessly play with tempo-shifts.

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quicklist: 4title: Mitski’s “Puberty 2” ****1/2text: “Puberty 2” is Mitski’s fourth proper full-length and follow-up to last year’s “Bury Me At Make Out Creek.” It is a brief but undeniably star-making effort. Throughout the set, she volleys between guitar-centric rock textures and slightly electro-flavored atmospheres. Really, this is cleaner and more streamlined in comparison to her last record. It helps that Mitski echoes some stellar possible influences. “Happy” sounds like a more melodic answer to Radiohead’s “Amnesiac,” while “Dan The Dancer” and “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars” both hint of PJ Harvey at her most raw. “Your Best American Girl” has a Pixies-esque rise but Mitski is far from a mere imitator.

This album has a set narrative about adult uneasiness. “Your Best American Girl,” for instance is a painfully honest ode to dating amidst a culture clash, while “Crack Baby” uses its title figure in a possible metaphor for love. “Crack baby you don’t know what you want / But you know you’ve had it once / And you know you want it back.”

This is a booming, gut-punching album. You wish it was longer, but perhaps its heavy 31-minute span is enough. Mitski should be seen as one of indie-rock’s most engaging and unpredictable figures. She is a defining and necessary voice. If you think well-planned, well-written alternative rock records are a thing of the past, this is a record you need to hear immediately. Mitski has written a sonic thesis on insecurity and the need to find love even if such a pursuit lets you down. This album hits the nail directly on the head.

Focus Tracks:

“Your Best American Girl” This is easily one of the best rock singles of the year. Courting an object of her affection, the Japanese-born but New York-based Mitski laments the end of a relationship before it begins as she sings, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me. / But I do. / I think I do. / You’re an all-American boy I guess I couldn’t help but try to be your best American girl.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a song about a culture clash and love delivered with such brutal, heartbreaking honesty. The video to this song drives its point even further home.

“I Bet On Losing Dogs” This song has the sound of a doomed lullaby and Mitski sings with a lulling, strangely comforting sweetness even as she knows what the future holds.

“Happy” This rhythmic and experimental track recounts a sexual encounter with happiness itself. (You read that right.) The point is that “Happiness” can be seen as a fleeting lover who will no doubt dump you and let you down.

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quicklist: 5title: Mumford & Sons With Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg’s “Johannesburg” ***1/2text: Just when you think you have Mumford & Sons figured out with their anthemic banjo-driven folk music, they continue to switch things up. First on last year’s awkward rock transition, “Wilder Mind,” and now on “Johannesburg,” an EP recorded in two days during a trip to South Africa. Guests Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg add some much-needed flavor to the band’s sometimes bland approach, making this a more rewarding listening experience than expected.

“Wona,” for instance recalls Paul Simon’s work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and even “Biko”-era Peter Gabriel. This will no doubt stand as an outlier in Mumford’s discography, but the guests bring a nice change of pace. This sounds like a friendly meeting of influences. I find myself wishing this collection was longer. At five songs and 20 minutes, it really opens a door for more possible exploration. The union of these four acts has helped to give Mumford & Sons one of their more essential recordings. When they go into the studio next, they should build off what they learned making this record and not “Wilder Mind.”

Focus Tracks:

“Wola” Sure this also kind of sounds like Vampire Weekend but at the same time it has real authenticity. You probably never thought that South African rhythms would be a natural fit for Mumford and Sons but this is a really welcoming sound.

“Ngamila” There’s an inherent sunniness to this collection and this track shows everyone involved giving their all to create something that is anthemic but not forced. This song has natural rises.

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quicklist: 6title: Unlocking The Truth’s “Chaos” **1/2text: Unlocking The Truth is a trio of teens from Flatbush Brooklyn who play a tight brand of metal. After an aborted major-label deal, “Chaos,” was released independently. Truth be told, I want to like this record more than I do. However, don’t be confused. Malcolm Brickhouse, Alec Atkins and Jarad Dawkins know their way around their instruments and can deliver blistering riffs with the best of them. Considering that the three members are all still young teenagers, this is especially impressive, which makes “Chaos” a fascinating listen technically speaking.

Where it drops the ball a little is in its songs. Single “Monster” stands out, but this is still on the formulaic side. Brickhouse is a commanding vocalist with an authoritative yell but he still has a lot of growth ahead of him. That will come with time. If this band keeps going (which they should), they will be unstoppable someday with the right guidance, in the meantime, this set offers cliché lyrics over an admittedly impressive backdrop. They are worth the hype to some extent, but their musical gifts need to be nurtured, not obviously by the pop machine but by the metal and punk communities.

“A Tide” with its “I want it to be over” lyrics and songs like “Help Me” and “Other Side” are boilerplate angst-driven workouts but aren’t lyrically or melodically compelling. Give this band time and hopefully with maturity their words and craft will match their instrumental chops. All one has to do is go to YouTube to see that they are a force of nature in the live setting. Sadly, in the studio, that immensity doesn’t yet translate.

Unlocking The Truth deserve to be championed and encouraged. In a bland, teen-pop world, these three young men have turned to old-school metal. They just need time to grow.

Focus Tracks:

“Take Control” This closer effectively combines Motorhead-style metal with a rap-rock flow. It’s the boldest moment of the set. In the mosh pit, this has to be a killer track.

“Numbing” I suppose this verse verges on speed-metal in places and it has thunderous appeal. Dawkins’ drum work here is particularly noteworthy.

“Monster” It is evident these kids have been listening to a lot of early Metallica albums. With the strongest hook on the set, this was the right pick as a single.

Next Week: New Music from DJ Shadow, The Avett Brothers and more.

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