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History Lesson: The Red Hot Chili Peppers

By Alec Killoran

Let me begin with the conclusion: I am worried by the single released by The Red Hot Chili Peppers (hereafter abbreviated to RHCP). 

Of course, nothing the band does now will in any way tarnish their prior work or take anything away from my life.  But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping for a great new chapter in my own personal RHCP experience.

After starting this article at the end, let’s get to the beginning: Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released in 1991. 

Audiophiles who want to act smart will often scoff at the notion that Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the beginning of RHCP, but ultimately their first four albums just aren’t that good.  There are some bright spots on Freaky Styley and Mother’s Milk, including great covers of Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone.  But Blood Sugar Sex Magik was a 17 track masterpiece that began the era of RHCP with which the world is most familiar.

I am going to try to cover everything the band has done since Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and explain my own thoughts on how the band evolved:

 

Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Personnel: Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, Chad Smith

A sprawling 17 track album, the band really tried out a lot of different things on this album, and they all kind of worked. 

Sexy Groove in the eponymous song, heavy funk in Mellowship Slinky in B Major, soft acoustic work in I Could Have Lied, and the percussion-heavy-12-string-abusing-6/8-driving ballad Breaking the Girl. 

Everybody knows (whether they know it or not) Under the Bridge, Give it Away, and Suck My Kiss, but the success across the rest of the album experimenting with other styles led the way for a lot of their best work later.

Best Song: Under the Bridge

Most Underrated Song: Naked in the Rain

Evolution: The soft acoustic song—I Could Have Lied, Under the Bridge

 

One Hot Minute (1995)

Personnel:Kiedis, Flea, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, Smith

I don’t want to talk about this album except to say that My Friends is a great song. 

Navarro clearly had way too much artistic input on this album.  I don’t want to badmouth the guy, because he’s a very good guitarist, but this album’s existence proves that as the guitarist goes—so do the Chili Peppers. 

And RHCP is definitely a band that needs to mesh in the right ways to make outstanding music. 

Navarro’s metal and hard rock influences just didn’t jive with the rest of the band.

Best Song: My Friends

Underrated: Tearjerker

Evolution: *bleh*

 

Californication (1999)

Personnel: Kiedis, Flea, Frusciante, Smith

This Velvet Glove is the most played song on my ipod touch.  The album as a whole was a triumph for the other stuff. 

Simply ignoring One Hot Minute, Californication feels like an extension and evolutionary form of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. 

During the Frusciante era, each subsequent album featured songs that seemed to evolve from a song on the preceding album.  Some songs would not be expanded upon, but new ones with different ideas would take their place. 

This musical threshing that spanned four albums first became apparent in Californication. 

I highly recommend listening to Californication in the ordered track listing—don’t shuffle it.

Best: This Velvet Glove

Underrated: Parallel Universe

New Ideas: Easily, Savior

Evolutions:  Scar Tissue, Californication

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiqSl0bfWro

 

By the Way (2002)

Personnel: Kiedis, Flea, Frusciante, Smith

Frusciante had a huge amount of creative input for By the Way, and it shows.  More tracks than not focus on melody and 4/4 rhythm, but none are pop songs by any stretch of the imagination. 

My favorite part of By the Way is the incorporation of orchestral and synth elements on songs like Midnight and Warm Tape. 

Kiedis’ vocals on the album are the most powerful that he’d ever done, particularly on the tracks Don’t Forget Me, Midnight and Throw Away Your Television. 

Perhaps most impressive, By the Way does not feature a single weak track. 

While RHCP fans undoubtedly have different taste in each album, I would argue that most have at least 2 tracks from the prior albums that don’t really fit their jive.  Not so for this album!

Best: Can’t Stop

Underrated: Midnight

New Ideas: Midnight, Warm Tape, Dosed, Cabron

Evolutions: I Could Die for You, This Is the Place, By the Way

 

Stadium Arcadium (2006)

Personnel: Kiedis, Flea, Frusciante, Smith

My God, this 28 track monster album is to me the culmination of everything great about the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  It’s practically impossible to pin down this album with a few sentences of review because there’s so much. 

The true shame is that the songs that are most widely known from the album (Dani California and Snow) are good, but not indicative of the gold mine of great music on both Jupiter and Mars. 

Slow Cheetah is unquestionably the Chili Peppers’ greatest soft acoustic song in my mind, and the guitar work on Wet Sand and Hey is among the greatest and compositionally smart I’ve ever heard from a band. 

And that’s all just from Jupiter!  Mars is a slightly better album from top to bottom in my opinion, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a single standout song.  I’m not going to even attempt to make a list of best or underrated songs. 

It’s absolutely essential that anyone reading this piece drop everything and listen to all 28 tracks if they have not already.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7g11ViJnU0

 

I’m With You (2011)

Personnel: Kiedis, Flea, Josh Klinghoffer, Smith

Many RHCP fans bitch about this album because it replaces John Frusciante with Josh Klinghoffer. 

I think the criticisms of I’m With You are half warranted and half willful ignorance.  It’s a mercurial album—there are some truly great songs that I listen to habitually, but there are also some rather forgettable songs that prove the Chili Peppers’ transition between guitarists had its creative lumps. 

I’m not a huge fan of the new age sounds that permeate the back half of the album.  RHCP lost some of its visceral interplay between guitar and the percussion line.

The acoustic Brendan’s Death Song is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Kiedis, Flea, and Smith carry Look Around, Annie Wants a Baby, Ethiopia, and Factory of Faith hard enough to be thoroughly enjoyable listens. 

When Flea and Smith get to take over a song, Klinghoffer thrives in the back seat.

Best: Brendan’s Death Song, Look Around

Underrated: Police Station, probably most of the album

New Ideas and Evolution: The whole damn thing

 

The Getaway (2016)

Personnel: Kiedis, Flea, Klinghoffer, Smith

Looking forward to this album, all I have to listen to is Dark Necessities.  The song has grown on me over the last week or so, but I am thoroughly worried by some aspects of the song. 

Importantly, the drums are extremely neutered and sound like the backing percussion featured on modern EDM tracks. 

It feels like the rest of the song is a mediocre track built around a phenomenal bassline (similar to the prior album’s “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie). 

It’s difficult to speculate with only one single released, but I truly hope Smith’s presence isn’t reduced on the rest of the album. 

Additionally, if Klinghoffer is going to be taking a larger role, he’ll have to show that he can carry a song instead of layering harmony around the rest of the track.

 

The Getaway drops June 17th, 2016.

 

Alec was on a cross-country road trip for the past several months, and practically wrote this on his phone. His dedication to his craft is as impeccable as this photo.

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