The Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) put out a new album in 2016 and I commend them. Not because they put out a new album but because they managed to release the same album they’ve released since 1995. The lyrics are different, the titles are different, but I imagine half of the songs will still be about California. It’s almost as if they are daring radio stations to not play their albums.
It’s fitting that in a year marred by the deaths of musical luminaries and the election of a fascist, the Red Hot Chili Peppers release an album that reaches number 1 on the Billboard charts. Who are the people buying these albums? Who wakes up in the morning and says, “Man, I can really go for some slap bass and corny rapping”?
Here’s the thing about RHCP: they are not horrible. They are definitely not good but they are not total shit. It’s the kind of music that’s perfect for the soundtrack of a romantic comedy. I imagine a 40 year old, recently divorced accountant climbing into his Saab after a long day of crunching numbers and rocking out to this album on his way to Buffalo Wild Wings.
It’s the perfect music for people who don’t want to try very hard. RHCP is a band you settle on. When you’ve given up on finding new bands you fall back on RHCP. They are the Hillary Clinton of music. They’ve been around forever, they’re not very exciting, and they expect undeserved loyalty. You wish they would quietly go away to make room for others but they won’t. They’ll stick around, attempt to reclaim past glory, and their fans will make passionless attempts to sway you over to their side.
This album is everything you’d expect from a bunch of 50 year old dudes who are desperately trying to be cool. Anthony Kiedis, the poor man’s Iggy Pop, even took time out of his shirtless existence to pen a disco number about banging robots. I wish that last sentence wasn’t true but it fucking is. The worst part is that it’s not the worst song on the album. That honor goes to a song called “Detroit” where he name drops J Dilla and uses the lyrics, “Henry won the war you see/ but not with pen or sword/ he did it with the little thing I think it’s called a Ford.” On another song he rhymes Chicago with avocado so you know that shit is whack. I guess that’s happens when they try to not write songs about California.
There was a time when RHCP were controversial. They gained a following thanks to hypersexual lyrics and a punk-funk style that wasn’t nearly as horrible as that description sounds. They partied hard, they OD’d on heroin, and whipped their dongs out indiscriminately onstage. Then they put out a hit record, Anthony Kiedis started to think he had a good singing voice, and it got real mediocre. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the middle-aged people who buy their albums don’t feel so depressed about the direction their lives have taken. Perhaps they convinced themselves that it’s okay to not be fun or imaginative anymore. RHCP stopped doing that decades ago and they’ve never been more successful.
As I look ahead to 2017, I know that it will be filled with disappointments. Trump will continue to push a xenophobic agenda and the Foo Fighters will continue to play to sold-out arenas. It’s easy to feel helpless. We can choose to accept mediocrity or we can try a little harder. We can choose to take what’s handed to us or we can look for something better. We can accept Flea and Anthony Kiedis jumping around with their shirts off or we can say, “Enough already you old pervs!” Go out and see an unsigned band. Buy a mixtape. Go to a basement show or a DIY space. Buy music from rad artists and let bands like RHCP go to the farm where old rock bands can live out their days recording Eagles covers in a barn.