I've been meaning to do a Spotlight on the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a while because they're one of my favorite alternative bands. I've put it off because I've covered three of the CDs before, but I figure since double dipping has become a standard in the music and dvd field (like every DVD title has to have a regular version, then an expanded version, then a deluxe version, then a directors cut, then a remastered version and then it goes on and on...) I can do it too. For the most part, the lineup of the band while I've listened to them has been Anthony Kiedis (vocals and sorta rap), Flea (bass), Chad Smith (often said to look like Will Farrell, drums) and John Frusciante (guitars).
The L.A. funkmeisters are always good for some bumpin' grooves and odd ball lyrics that add a little fun to the day. I first started listening to them through a friend in College that played bass and thought RHCP was great. Then I got hooked on the riff of their song "Taste The Pain" when it was used in the movie Say Anything (it's towards the start when John Cusack is stuffing paper in his tape player to get it to work). So I eventually picked up a used copy of Mother's Milk so my story with the RHCP starts there.
Mother's Milk (1989)
Mother's Milk is famous mainly for their popular cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground". The funk skater punk edge modernized the song and at this point may be better known than the original (not knocking Stevie Wonder, Innervisions is a great album). "Knock Me Down", inspired by their deceased original guitarist Hillel Slovak, also got radio play. RHCP had a reputation for playfully lewd songs and of the albums I've heard this was the strongest in that direction ("Sexy Mexican Maid" comes to mind). The odd "Magic Johnson" stood out as well as their cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire". Compared to what would follow, Mother's Milk was like the last blast of teen adolescent innocence before hitting young adulthood. The loose open feel and energy fitted well with my life at that time.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Producer Rick Rubin took the band to the core of its sound, leaving muscular funk bass riffs, skittering guitar jabs and Kiedis' rap singing to propel the sound sans whimsy. The uber funky "Give It Away" was the lead single and was matched with a classic video. The ballad "Under The Bridge" displayed new found maturity and led to a monster #1 smash. With that momentum established, the funk lust of "Suck My Kiss" and the dramatic acoustics of "Breaking The Girl" went into the charts as well. The rest of the disc grinds, pops and bounds along nicely to create an Alterna rock classic. I'll always associate this disc with the end of College and the thought of new possibilities on the horizon. And "Sir Psycho Sexy". Who could forget that song!
One Hot Minute (1995)
But all was not well in the RHCP as Frusciante's escalating drug problems led to his departure mid tour in 1992. The band still had some tracks left that were unreleased so they made the most of it, most notably with the hit "Soul To Squeeze" from the Coneheads soundtrack. The guitar slot became a revolving door that eventually hit on Dave Navarro (ex-Jane's Addiction, ex-Carmen Electra). I lost track of the band at this point and ignored their 1995 release though I couldn't get away from the hits "My Friends" and "Aeroplane" even when I wanted to. The songs are OK, just didn't WOW me. What did WOW me was a cover of the Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster" from the Beavis and Butthead soundtrack. That was the jam I wanted to hear! It made work fun.
Frusciante came back to the fold and re-energized the band to record one of their best efforts. Californication shows the band moving from frenzied funk rock punks to elder statesmen of pop with their most varied album. They reeled off hits like the moody "Scar Tissue", the trademark funk of "Around The World", the melancholy pop of "Otherside" and the wistful title cut. Elsewhere the band would bounce between the straight funk of "Get On Top" to the sweeping balladry of "Road Trippin". Even album tracks like the scratch funk of "I Like Dirt" and the mellow "Porcelain" were memorable. An unexpected come back that I played to death in 1999, it was a cornucopia of Pop goodness. It came at the right time, there were some positive changes in our life at this time that the album went nicely with.
By The Way (2002)
A sort of sucker punch to me, the first single and title track was a hyperkinetic funk rocker with a slammin' beat. When I got the CD, the rest of the album was mostly soft, drifty and forgettable. There were some high spots like the mildly catchy "Can't Stop" or the laid back "The Zephyr Song" (or to me, "Cell Phone Song" because that's what I hear in the chorus) but I can't remember most of the album and I've played it more than once. So By The Way was just "good enough" too me, nothing I got excited about. I mainly think of shopping for groceries with my wife when I think of this disc, that's where I think I've heard it the most. In supermarkets trying to decide between wheat bread and Wonder.
Stadium Arcadium (2006)
When I heard RHCP was releasing a double album, my first response was "eh". It sorta made sense because I didn't think I was alone in being put off by their super soft direction even though it was clearly where the band's heads were at. So Stadium Arcadium initially met my expectations, two CDs were enough space to put out a full disc's worth of slow, dreamy pop and still grab fans with some of that slap happy funk rock that brought them to the dance. Over time the discs have grown on me and now view it as the group's magnum opus. Everything you like about the Chili Peppers are spread out, the poppin' bass licks, cooing background vocals, indelible melodies and occasionally odd instrumentation are all here plus more. It doesn't eclipse the classics, but is a great source of one stop shopping for any fans of the band and includes one of my favorite RHCP songs, "Tell Me Baby". And it's great for long car rides or long commutes to work.
It's been a long trip with the funky monks from So Cal, they've gone in and out of style but were guaranteed to raise a smile whenever I heard them. And since Stadium Arcadium was a double album and I just plain like this next video, I'll close with "Dani California". I wonder what they'll do next?