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.