photo & text by nacrowe
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 & text by nacrowe
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.