“I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’
And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” – Nick Cave
What happens when you outgrow the band that you’ve grown up with?
June 17 marked the release of Californian four-piece band the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 11th studio album, The Getaway. Usually when describing the release of an album for review, I would insert a phrase in the vein of “highly anticipated”. However, it appears this is not in fact the case, as many were left completely oblivious to the album’s launch.
Although I originally intended to review the album, the more I listened, the more I began to view it as a statement on what the band has become after such a lengthy career. A statement that reinforced the belief they are not the same band I grew up loving so many years ago. This instead became a critique of the band’s entire career and my changing attitude towards them.
Upon listening to the album I couldn’t help but question, after 11 studio albums and a career spanning more than three decades, how does a band made up predominantly of men in their 50s remain relevant? As I listened to each track on the album the answer reluctantly became more and more apparent: They simply do not.
When nostalgia’s not enough
It seems to me the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been releasing the same album since Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991. Don’t get me wrong, albums such as Californication and By the Way will always resonate with memories of my youth, but in my opinion, what makes a truly great artist is the ability to reinvent themselves and remain relevant, coinciding with the ever-changing world around them. Great examples of this are the late David Bowie, or The Beatles. The Chili Peppers on the other hand are still profiting off their 1990s-2000s nostalgia.
There was a time when my former teenage self would have been delighted at the announcement of yet another Red Hot Chili Peppers album. I have fond memories of learning their entire catalogue on the guitar and memorising every lyric word for word. I even went so far as to pledge to one day place their infamous asterix tattoo on my shoulder blade. However, it has reached a stage where the release of any new album by the band has such an effect that it makes me increasingly dislike any previous releases to the point where I am forced to question the quality of anything they have ever done.
Their Stadium Arcadium tour was the very first concert I ever attended. I remember going with my mother and considering it the best night of my life. I was captivated by their live show, in particular the on-stage antics of bass player Michael Balzary, AKA Flea, and the breathtaking musicianship of guitarist John Frusciante, someone who I still very much consider a hero to this day.
I took excessive pride in being one of the few in attendance to know the lyrics to some of the band’s more obscure songs, particularly those appearing on their third studio album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. It’s not hard to imagine why the band’s glorification of sex and drugs through their music would be so attractive to a 14-year-old boy. Rock ‘n’ roll became my outlet and my religion, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers were messengers sent from God.
The next time I saw them perform live was at The Big Day Out 2013. At this stage the band had been replaced, in my mind, by The Beatles as the greatest band of all time. However, upon hearing of their headlining spot, nostalgia kicked in at full force. I waited for hours in scorching heat, battling an uncontrollable urge to use the bathroom from the get go. However, there was not a chance in hell that I was going to lose the spot in the front row that I had suffered through dehydration, sunburn and physical strain on my body to obtain. Even without John Frusciante I was still overwhelmed with enthusiasm by the band’s performances of some of their greatest hits.
Although one thing that truly resonated with me was how little I cared for any of the songs from their latest album at the time, I’m With You. This triggered my cynical outlook on the band’s career as a whole.
I can attribute this to one factor and one factor only, rock ‘n’ roll is about youth. Perhaps it’s because I’m no longer a teenager or perhaps it’s because the gimmick of stripping down to your underwear and dancing around a stage becomes a lot less fun and quirky when you reach your 50s.
Living up to the legend
Although we don’t like to admit it, when we look up to celebrities we tend to forget they are real people. They get placed on a pedestal that makes them appear as nothing more than fictional characters. This is why we take so much pleasure in the drama that is their lives. Singer Anthony Kiedis in particular is infamous for his heavily publicised heroin addiction. This addiction was able to fuel his creative drive and, as a result, helped give his music some meaning. He has now removed the drugs from his sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, and although this is obviously beneficial to him, in regard to his artistic output and celebrity he has now become nothing more than a boring, narcissistic 53-year-old. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have become sober, boring adults.
I once believed that lyrics such as “What I’ve got you’ve got to give it to your mamma” would stay with me forever, instead its impact left my life in a similar fashion to how the acne left my face when I graduated from puberty and I finally grew up. Some bands will stay immortalised forever. The likes of The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones have not been forgotten. This is because they stood for something more than a teenage boy’s sex-fuelled fantasies, something that will stay with their fans up until the day they die. The Red Hot Chili Peppers appealed to the raging hormones that came along with graduating from adolescence but in order for a band to become truly immortalised they must stand for something more than these superficial concepts.
Malcolm X once said, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything”. Similarly, a band that stands for nothing will inevitably fall into obscurity and will one day be forgotten.
So please Red Hot Chili Peppers stop, just stop. I want to love you, I really do. Music has always been one of the most important parts of my life and you are the reason for that. You have helped to shape me into the person I am today and for that I will always be grateful. I want to remember you for the way you were, not the as the subpar nostalgia act you’ve become. You will always have a special place in my heart, but for the love of God and the fans who still love you, please… Shut up and stop making music! – Jameel Khan
Album cover by Warner Bros Records and (above) YouTube video of Red Hot Chilli Peppers from The Late Late Show with James Corden.