It had been an unusually quiet five years since the Chilis’ last album, the double disc Stadium Arcadium, and departure of guitarist John Frusciante in 2009 caused a split that could’ve ended the band for good. But I’m With You came along, the band’s 10th studio album, pulling them back from the abyss with bravado intact. Accomplished new axeman, Josh Klinghoffer, a close friend of the band, seemed the perfect guitarist replacement, giving old tricks new shapes and layering riffs and melodies where Frusciante burned solos. Created was an album with the primordial rumblings of a band tuning up for a jam, perhaps for its first in a long time, but showcases an impressive spectrum of musicality; proving there was still life in the old dogs yet.
Opening track ‘Monarchy Of Roses’ begins with a big squall of guitar and drums, roaring into life with meaty, rumbling heavy metal riffs which unravels into a merry disco sing-a-long chorus. Lead single, ‘The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie’ features glam-rock hooks, repeated cowbell-blasted shuffles and Kiedis’ ever-cheesy lyrics “Tick tock I want to rock you like the Eighties”. ‘Brendan’s Death Song’ showcases the boys emotionally recharging, following death of their close friend, L.A. club owner Brendan Mullen; the track begins as an acoustic elegy “You’ll know it’s your jam it’s your goodbye” which turns into an uplifting ballad, moving fans to tears. Flea also gets more limelight in this album, with the positively giddy ‘Did I Let You Know?’ featuring a sashaying grove accompanied by Klinghoffer’s sultry, liquid guitar riff, driving the song towards a gigantic, radio-ready chorus. Their third quality album in the space of a decade, it dealt with more mature themes and proving their ability to keep going when things get tough, urging fans to declare “I’m with them!”.
RHCP’s ninth studio album Stadium Arcadium is the most ambitious work of their 33-year career, a whopping double LP featuring twenty-eight songs which consolidate everything that is the Chili Peppers. It plays like a box set experience of arena-friendly songs, mostly evolving around California, sex and having sex in California, and demonstrates the bands’ musical ability through funnier-funk metal stuff to the soul-baring style balladry. Opening track and lead single ‘Dani California’ hit all the right notes, winning 2007 Grammy for Best Rock Song despite speculation that the guitar part sounds a lot like Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’.
The catchy songs continue with ‘Torture Me’ and ‘Snow’ throwing in “Hey oh, whoo ah oh” every other second. Track ‘Hump De Bump’ is straight back to the old school – fast, goofy guitar toying, with reverberating bass that jumps around the frets with vocal gymnastics to match and odd brass squiggles. The second CD is almost as good, despite containing far too many mid-tempo tracks for my liking. Most of the band were now parents, and expressed these maturing concerns through ‘Hard To Concentrate’ a song of marriage proposals written to music, and ‘Death Of A Martian’ about pets dying. With drugs now out of the picture and life and love are reaffirmed, Red Hot Chili Peppers demonstrated with Stadium Arcadium that they were a relentless hit machine, if anybody still doubted them.
Certainly the most absorbing rock album of 2002, By The Way captures the Chilis’ ability to expand their distinctive sound and evolve, organically, without going too far. Despite being a more downbeat record in comparison to its’ predecessors (Californication springs to mind), it was monstrously successful, showcasing the band’s refreshing confidence to do what they want to, with their hearts displayed not only on their sleeves but in their work too. Stylistically all over the shop, the album offers fans a range of sixteen catchy multi-dimensional melodies that hang together coherently because of the band’s innate playfulness and sense of humour. Opening title track ‘By The Way’ and energetic ‘Can’t Stop’ mix the former and new aspects of the Chilis’ sound; Kiedis rapping, and Flea’s aggressive basslines alongside melodic guitars and vocals.
Clearly at ease with swapping genre styles whenever it suits them, ‘On Mercury’ is basically eccentric trumpet tooting, bordering on ska-punk and the boisterous track ‘Cabron’ features arpeggiated guitars, striking a sound somewhere in-between medieval and Spanish whilst advocating peace in a gang-run neighbourhood. ‘Dosed’, a personal favourite of mine, is simply beautiful. With Frusciante’s downright gorgeous chords in harmony with Kiedis’ touching chorus “Deep inside the canyon I can’t hide”, pure emotion oozes out of this track, creating a lump in listeners’ throats as they try fighting back the tears. On the whole, the Chilis’ have never been this consistent with an album before; even the seemingly mindless songs come with consciousness-expanding bridges. It is an album that successfully gathers disparate sounds and turns them into something cohesive, successfully hanging together for its 68-minute running time.
Californication’s 1999 release restored fans’ faith with the return to the band’s classic formation, seeing Frusciante slotted straight back into the revolving guitar saddle. From the outset, it appears as an album daring to be spiritual, littered with tracks that tickle the ears, swells the heart and moistens the tear ducts. A fine example of this is Grammy Award-winning hit ‘Scar Tissue’, lyrically striking an emotional chord “With the birds I share this lonely view” complemented by Frusciante’s slide guitar playing, creating a smooth and nostalgic melody reducing listeners to a state of vulnerability.
After a truly phenomenal first half, in which ‘Parallel Universe’ and ‘Easily’ showcase the band’s darker and heavier side, Californication matures and expands in the form of hard hitting melodic ballads, with Keidis’ vocals giving way to distortion. ‘Get On Top’ and ‘Purple Stain’ offer familiar funk-rap tracks with explosive jam endings and catchy lyrics that refuse to leave your brain. Album closer ‘Road Trippin’’ best encapsulates their sweet adolescent friendship, and successfully glistens simplicity and serenity through its finger picking acoustics and relaxing vocals, reminding us all to be “a mirror for the sun” – a much more positive and upbeat outlook on life. Overall, Californication is essentially a funk rock album, showing the band at their most reflective and matured state than ever before.
The late eighties had seen a significant shake up in the Chilis’ line-up, following the untimely death of guitarist Hillel Slovak from a heroin overdose in 1988, and the subsequent departure of drummer Jack Irons from grief. Replaced by Chad Smith on drums and guitarist John Frusciante, this new iteration recorded the vast majority of 1989’s Mother’s Milk, a significant leap forwards for the group in artistic terms. Two years later, having made the leap from EMI to Warner Bros., RCHP also brought in Rick Rubin, who by 1991 was already a monastic, perma-bearded guru with a reputation as band whisperer. In just 30 days, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was recorded, an epic 17-track, 74-minute-long album cycling through several different moods – horny, gleeful, haunted, boastful – that represented a massive expansion of RHCP’s paradigm.
Standout track ‘Funky Monks’ acts like a documentary capturing the revealing the pull-and-push between the band’s newfound artistic focus and showcasing their irrepressible funkery. Created is a cretaceous oogie-boogie, with Frusciante shredding triplets and guitar solos alongside Flea’s slap-bass and Kiedis high-pitched chorus vocals. Still preoccupied with uninhibited physicality of sex, ‘Give It Away’ remains one of the memorable rock-singles of the ‘90s. Led by Flea’s hiccupping bass line and filled out by Frusciante’s chrome-plated guitar work it is hard not to tap your foot to the beat and sing along to the gutter-minded lyrics “what I’ve got you’ve got to get it put it in you”. The extended ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’ takes these themes to the extreme.
Yet the boys do display a more mature attitude with ‘The Righteous And The Wicked’, a track with intones focusing on a forthcoming environmental apocalypse due to man’s selfish behavior. Frusciante’s guitar tone sounds like a dark cloud pimped through a smokestack creating a foreboding atmosphere as Kiedis full-throated dialogue gets to the point of “Racism fuckin’ sucks”. ‘I Could Have Lied’ signposted the more melancholy direction they would take over the coming years. We also get a glimpse at Kiedis’ sensitive side, in ‘Under The Bridge’, a song first considered as not fitting the style of the band. Written by Kiedis himself as a reflection on his heroin and cocaine addictions, it is powerfully moving, with a huge epic outro sung by a large group of singers, including Frusciante’s mother. The somber tone runs throughout the track, carrier by a simple guitar melody that cradles the introductory verse and a still down-tempo choral crescendo.
‘Under The Bridge’ and ‘Give It Away’ may have long since entered the classic rock canon, but its parent album was also the high-water mark of a sub-genre that the Chili Peppers made entirely their own. Crucially, it provided the radio hits that Chilis had long sought after, and brought them to mainstream credibility while retaining and improving on all the core elements that their existing fanbase had always enjoyed. Blood Sugar Sex Magik went on to sell over 13 million copies around the world, catapulting them to world-wide fame (with a guest spot on ‘The Simpsons’ soon afterwards, the all-time hallmark of greatness!) earning the band its first Grammy Award, and placed itself in the history books of albums that will long be remembered.
Do you agree with our list? What is your favourite Red Hot Chili Peppers album? Tell us what you think below!
Tags: An Introduction to, Anthony Kiedis, artist profile, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, By The Way, Californication, Chad Smith, Cliff Martinez, Dave Navarro, feature, Flea, Freaky Styley, Hannah Binns, Hillel Slovak, I'm With You, Jack Irons, Jack Sherman, John Frusciante, Josh Klinghoffer, Mother's Milk, One Hot Minute, playlist, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium, The Getaway, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
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