Friday, November 16, 2018

How the Red Hot Chili Peppers Matured as Songwriters

A sure sign of a great band is its ability to evolve and still maintain it's core essence.

Over the years (we're talking 34 years now since their first album), the Red Hot Chili Peppers have constantly shifted their sound but album after album, they continue to mature as songwriters.

For a band that started out as a funk-rock-punk outfit, the current incarnation of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer have successfully transitioned into a solid rock outfit that's not afraid to stretch the sound by adding synthesizers or disco beats.

Back in the early 1980s as a band starting out, the Peppers wrote songs that broke the mold, becoming one of the first bands to merge metal, rap, and funk. "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes" from their self-titled 1984 debut is a prime example of the band's early songwriting.

Their next two albums contained similar songwriting styles and on "Fight Like A Brave" from The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the band strengthened their craft with more meaningful lyrics as Kiedis detailed one of his many battles with heroin, a drug that claimed the life of original guitarist Hillel Slovak in 1988.

The band really began to mature in 1998, after Slovak's death, on their Mother's Milk album. Songs like "Knock Me Down", "Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky", and the brilliant instrumental "Pretty Little Ditty" showcase a band that's coming into its own, with profound lyrics, a better sound, and deeper musical grooves."

Following up on the commercial success of Mother's Milk, the Chilis hired uber-producer Rick Rubin and released Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991. Again, the band continued to evolve, with "Under the Bridge" reaching No. 2 - a song brought to the band by Kiedis, who didn't think it was good for the band's modus operandi, but Rubin convinced him it was a worthy track. It's another example of the group digging deeper and not being afraid to stick with one style of music.

Fast forward to 2002 and the album By the Way. RHCP by this time had mellowed out in a big way. It's their least funky record but a song like "Can't Stop" hearkens back to the Blood Sugar Sex Magik days. And a song like "On Mercury" showcases a serious ska/reggae influence. Then there's the title track, with the phenomenal vocal harmonies of Kiedis and former guitarist John Frusciante. At this time, the guitarist had cleaned up in rehab, was happy, and became instrumental in the songwriting, leaning on influences from the Beach Boys and The Beatles. "By the Way" is a roadmarker in how the Chilis had evolved to that point, as was the whole album.

The L.A. band's most recent effort (their 11th album), the amazing The Getaway really is among their best work. A real California rock record that shows them at their peak in terms of melody, feel, and groove. "Dark Necessities", "Go Robot", and "Sick Love" (featuring Elton John - who would have thought that in 1984?)are among the finer tracks RCHP has ever laid down. Take "Sick Love", which boasts the base chord structure of John's "Bennie and the Jets". It's a song that encompasses four decades of musical influences, shining strong in one song.

For longtime fans who has been fans since the 1980s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have proven themselves to be an ever-changing, evolving fountain of youth in terms of their songwriting. For music fans, that's about as good as it gets.