along with BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS, 1991), the CALIFORNICATION (WARNER BROS, 1999) record is generally celebrated as the other landmark RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS release, not least in part due to the fact that it marked the return of the virtuosic guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE to the fold. to appreciate this record you have to consider how ALTERNATIVE ROCK had evolved into the late 1990s when HIP HOP-influenced METAL (LIMP BIZKIT, KORN, LINKIN PARK, etc.) was all the rage. with the exception of the FOO FIGHTERS (as well as several less than credible POST GRUNGE pretenders), there was little vitality in the way of AMERICAN ALTERNATIVE ROCK at the time.
to my ears what made CALIFORNICATION such a revolutionary listen was its simplicity. this record is celebrated and often cited as evidence of FRUSCIANTE's genius (as well as the rhythm section's preternatural chemistry and dexterous musicality) as he evokes so much emotion from his guitar by pairing everything down to a minimal set of notes. for such a technically gifted musician it is the act of pairing everything back to its essence that gives this record its power. CALIFORNICATION sonically is a minimalist affair and is very much a case study in a less is more mindset and aesthetic. case in point are seminal tracks such as "SCAR TISSUE," "OTHERSIDE" and the title track "CALIFORNICATION." to me the arrangements almost have the feel of BEBOP and JAZZ, which should come as no surprise given bassist FLEA's musical background with a trumpet. in fact, subsequent releases will benefit from his formal studies within the genre, further adding to an already advanced group sense of compositional dynamics.
which brings me to the other ingredient at play here: extreme dynamics. given the single note minimalism of the many iconic FRUSCIANTE riffs that abound this release, such are compositionally showcased by maximalist dynamic shifts in tempo and pitch. such is on display on tracks like "AROUND THE WORLD," "GET ON TOP," "RIGHT ON TIME." the use of extreme dynamics creates an unpredictability that is both propulsive and undeniable engrossing. very much reminds me of that kinetic sensibility i felt when i first heard classic GEORGE CLINTON tracks on his PARLIAMENT and FUNKADELIC records.
it was during the CALFORNICATION-era of the band that i saw them live with the FOO FIGHTERS at a gig in PROVIDENCE. i was in boarding school in MASSACHUSETTS at the time and the show was a school sponsored trip. i just remember that evening being a respite from the grind of school and in some odd way got me in touch with my CALIFORNIA roots which i had long abandoned some four years before when my family moved to NIGERIA. there is just something about the band that seemingly exudes the attitude and aesthetic of the GOLDEN STATE, much like JANE'S ADDICTION, X, THE DOORS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, THE BEACH BOYS and THE GERMS before them. at a point in my life when i felt no connection to my surroundings, seeing that show made me feel like i had a tribe out there somewhere.
and im still looking.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
ive come around recently to the AUCKLAND DJ and former long-time BBC RADIO 1 RADIO PERSONALITY ZANE LOWE, especially with regards to his current THE ZANE LOWE INTERVIEW SERIES on APPLE MUSIC. ive watched and listened to his interviews for years and while he always came across as INFORMED and an ardent fan of his subject, there were times his PASSION seemed to stray into straight-up adulation. or so i thought. i believe the dude is fully aware of his role in the wider ecosystem of modern culture as a bridge of sorts for the global public to access emerging and established musicians, and i feel his ENTHUSIASM is a reflection of such. his queries are often the types a hardcore fan would want answered by a favored artist if given the opportunity and the nerve.
and that perspective of LOWE from that as a stand-in for the public was how i judged him until recently. i began to realize that, like HOWARD STERN, he is a great listener. and i think such may be an outgrowth of the long-form format of THE ZANE LOWE INTERVIEW SERIES of podcasts as it gives him time to weave and contextualize competing narratives and informed takes on his subject's career. in essence he isn't necessarily flattering his guests, instead he's creating a SAFE ENVIRONMENT for them to open up. and post-pandemic he is doing such physically as well, often meeting his subjects on their home-court. at their favorite spots. in their cities. sometimes even at their home or recording studio.
i've also noticed that he is shrewd in his interviewing style as he allows his subject to TAKE THE LEAD, with him interjecting only to clarify or contextualize a point he found interesting or needing of clarification for the average viewer. LOWE is the type of interlocutor that is comfortable not being "in the know" at all times and lets it known when he finds something genuinely UNEXPECTED or COMPELLING. i've also noticed he is not afraid of silence. it reminds me of my teaching days where there were sometimes pregnant silences were students or myself were conjuring a response to a BOLD question hanging in the air. the silences in his interviews are ones where people are fully contemplating and thus fully ENGAGED.
it took me a while to come around to the fact that the guy is just a fan of music and art and the processes/ALCHEMY from which such rise from the ether. in that sense it is almost inconsequential who the subject is, from DAVID BYRNE to MILEY CYRUS. i look forward to seeing where his long-form interview series leads him. hopefully he can interview some of my heroes like Q-TIP, JOHNNY MARR, SHANE MCGOWAN, JUSTINE FRISCHMANN, HUGH CORNWELL, MARK MOTHERSBAUGH, MIKE PATTON or even transcendent emerging artists like DRAB MAJESTY and CHELSEA WOLFE.
one can dream.
ONE HOT MINUTE (WARNER BROS, 1995) is a one-off anomaly in the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS' catalogue largely because it sounds like what it is: a JANE'S ADDICTION hybrid due to the inclusion of guitarist DAVE NAVARRO. his predecessor on record was the much celebrated and beloved JOHN FRUSCIANTE, who had a completely different style than NAVARRO. where NAVARRO was LUSH, OPAQUE and EXPANSIVE, FRUSCIANTE was MINIMAL and ANGULAR. in my mind neither is better, but in retrospect it is apparent that FRUSCIANTE was a better fit with the overall FUNK ethos of the band. i dont think that opinion is a controversial statement since i believe even NAVARRO would admit such.
but none of this was important to me when i first came across ONE HOT MINUTE tracks like "AEROPLANE" and "MY FRIENDS" in october of 1995 when my family was staying in NYC for a week in between flights from LOS ANGELES to FRANKFURT to our new home in NIGERIA. when we made that huge move we stayed with a friend of my parents that had an apartment in TUDOR CITY and more importantly, had MTV. in CALIFORNIA we never had cable, and none of my friends did either, so i remember being really taken aback by all of the BUGSBY BERKELEY theatrics of the "AEROPLANE" video. in many ways that particular trip represents in my life represents a SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS from the CULTURAL MYOPIA of ORANGE COUNTY to the GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE of attending an international school in AFRICA. seeing MTV for the first time also felt like a shift of sorts. you have to remember that this was all pre-internet and music on cable television was a bigger cultural influencer than it is now.
as an adult i go back to ONE HOT MINUTE all of the time. tracks i frequent tend to be the ones that just set off and EXPLODE like "WARPED," "SHALLOW BE THY GAME," "ONE BIG MOB" and "COFFEE SHOP." NAVARRO and his wah pedal never sounded more well acquainted with one another, in fact it feels like an extensive of his ego. he just absolutely rips and FLEA and CHAD SMITH never sounded more MUSCULAR and TIGHT as a rhythm section in my opinion. my favorite track on the album is "TRANSCENDING" especially the ringing DANIEL ASH-esque textures NAVARRO interlaces throughout the verses that culminate in a series of hammer-ons in the chorus that are truly SUBLIME. so melodic and so satisfying to listen to. makes you wonder what the bend would have sounded like had the continued.
but they didnt. it wasnt a perfect fit and only in the later (and all too brief) JOSH KLINGHOFFER-era of the band have these songs even been reintroduced in a live setting. but yeah, in my mind ONE HOT MINUTE is a definitive CHILI PEPPERS record despite it being a complete one-off. and im completely biased since my middle school band played "MY FRIENDS" at a school assembly, which today sounds like an odd choice. regardless, this record well worth checking out and revisiting.
growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS feel like a cultural institution at this point. coming out of the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s and being primed on all the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK of that era, while also integrating other influences (most predominantly the ethos and sonic complexity of classic FUNK records) this band, along with others like FAITH NO MORE, JANE'S ADDICTION and FISHBONE, in my eyes exemplifies that tipping point when ALTERNATIVE ROCK began to boil over culturally and laid the groundwork for NIRVANA to later charge the gates. given how commercially viable the band has been for decades, its difficult to discern how revolutionary their sound actually was back when their fifth release, BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS, 1991) came out at the beginning of the 90s.
its easy to point out the sheer musical dexterity and chemistry of their rhythm section in FLEA, CHAD SMITH and JOHN FRUSCIANTE. it is arguably one of the great assembles of musicians in the history of rock music, probably right there with LED ZEPPELIN. the immense aural pleasure of this listening to this record is how tight and connected they are as a unit. songs like "SUCK MY KISS," "THE POWER OF EQUALITY," "NAKED IN THE RAIN," "FUNKY MONKS," "THE GREETING SONG," and "MELLOWSHIP SLINKY IN B MAJOR" just start and stop on a dime with such energy and gusto that GEORGE CLINTON would most definitely nod with approval. and then there are tender ballads composed in an attempt to almost transform FOLK music and INDIE ROCK into some odd hybrid, i.e. songs like "BREAKING THE GIRL," "I COULD HAVE LIED" and the iconic "UNDER THE BRIDGE."
where this record breaks down relates to frontman ANTHONY KEIDIS, who is arguably the wild card and often a perpetual weak link in their discography. there are plenty of sex-crazed, cringe-inducing lyrics on "SIR PSYCHO SEXY" and the titled track "BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK," which have not aged well especially in light recent allegations of habitual and continuous sexual impropriety during this era in the band's history. these allegations the band has attempted to address and atone for, so i will take them at their word, but it still makes some of the more lurid subject matter a little bit hard to stomach given such.
my recollection of this record at the time was watching them play "GIVE IT AWAY" at the 1993 GRAMMY's with GEORGE CLINTON. i was in third grade so i just remember it all looking and feeling ridiculous. years later in 1999 when attending high school in MASSACHUSETTS i was able to see the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS play RHODE ISLAND on their co-headlining tour with the FOO FIGHTERS in support of CALIFORNICATION (WARNER BROS, 1999). it was the return of the classic lineup and i jst remember being enthralled by FRUSCIANTE and FLEA. their sense of musical connection is really something to be witnessed. one of the better live bands ive ever seen.
so in summation, BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK is a classic, if not problematic, record by a seminal band who undoubtedly inspired everyone that came after to create new hybrid sounds not heard or imagined before. and that is pretty cool.
in the 80 and 90s with maybe the exception of scene favorites JANE'S ADDICTION and FISHBONE, the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS were the de facto definitive ALTERNATIVE band from LOS ANGELES. incorporating disparate elements of PUNK aggression with off-kilter FUNK feel and time signatures, their sound was unique in an era where originality was a virtue. their revolving door of guitarists (HILLEL SLOVAK, JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DAVE NAVARRO) and the foundational core of FLEA and CHAD SMITH provided one of the great rhythm sections of all-time.
but this is ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir and i'm not gonna lie, he's the weak link in my opinion. i'll just say that up front. even on their best releases, his word-salad approach to lyrics and frat-boy demeanor and general public womanizing was something to be tolerated and not applauded (this is even more problematic given the later accusations that have come about in recent years way after the publication of this book).
getting my bias out of the way, SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION 2004) by ANTHONY KIEDIS and LARRY SLOMAN is mainly about the three major relationships of KIEDIS' life up until this point: his father BLACKIE DAMMETT, his best friend and bandmate FLEA and drugs, specifically heroin. for as much as this book is about his unconventional nomadic upbringing and later numerous trysts and relationships over the years, which all seemed pretty boring quite frankly, in the end I found this book to be about an extroverts need for attention in a community only too willing to grant such.
i can only imagine what growing up with a failed-actor, drug-addled father would do to a young psyche. the messages spoken and unspoken about one's self-worth in a HOLLYWOOD community that trades on humans like they are commodities. not to mention how women were treated as arm candy in an ambitious arms race for fame and notoriety.
I found KIEDIS to be pretty shallow on most subjects in the book with the exceptions being his thoughts on those three relationships and how they informed him as a person. in some ways this book feels like a celebration of his friends and the LOS ANGELES artistic community that challenged and supported his band. for that I applaud him, but it doesn't alter the fact that on some level he's a LARS ULRICH-like impotent mouthpiece where his talk is supported by the actual talent and virtuosity of those around him.
or maybe i am too hard on him, this was written during a renaissance in his career after two successful reunion albums with legendary guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE. maybe he was coming to terms with the fact that he was a chauvinistic douche. i doubt it.
if you are fan of KIEDIS, definitely check out this book, if not do yourself a favor and listen to a FAITH NO MORE or MR. BUNGLE record. When is MIKE PATTON gonna put out a book, anyway?