Review Summary: A timeless classic, that does what any good album should do, invoking a pluthora of emotions out of the listener.
John Frusciante was an extremely unhappy man following the release of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s breakthrough fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The Chili Pepper’s high school dropout, funk guru of a guitarist was dreadfully unhappy with the growing worldwide popularity the band was gaining. A culmination of sorts that exemplified the effects that an unhappy Frusciante was having on the band’s sound, came on a performance of Under The Bridge on Saturday Night Live, in which Frusciante purposely played out of key at times, and deliberately sang awful back up vocals. But Blood Sugar Sex Magik kept selling, and things went from bad to worse. Frusciante ended up leaving the band in 1992 at the end of the world tour, putting the band in all too familiar spot, such as when founder of the band Hillel Slovak died in 1988.
Now, you may ask why such a lengthy introduction about the extreme pessimism of John Frusciante is needed in a review about an actual album. Well, you see, understanding the negativity of Frusciante’s attitude on this album is a key component to understanding the album itself. Throughout a band in turmoil, botched live performances, and overall growing tensions, Blood Sugar Sex Magik still managed to prosper as an absolute gem of an album combining high energy rock and funk into one amazing sonic journey.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this record is that all of the instrumentals essentially cater to one genre, yet never in any sense of the word become predictable or boring. It’s safe to say that every song on this album besides three can be described as Funk, or Funk Rock. With that said, Flea always finds ways to makes his slap and pop bass forceful, Frusciante’s guitar lines always rhythmic and in the groove, and Chad Smith’s drums consistently sharp with some nice fills. In fact, all the instrumentals are all represented evenly in the album’s opener, Power of Equality. Flea’s bass fills regularly pump more energy into the song; while Frusciante’s solid rhythm guitar playing remains funky, and sharp as a knife. As usual throughout the album, vocalist Anthony Kiedis produces catchy raps containing wonderfully entertaining lyrics. With all this in consideration, Power of Equality can be viewed as a perfect representation for the album as a whole-funky, high energy, and fun.
As mentioned, many other tracks can be held in the same vein as the opener. Funky Monks opens with the funkiest guitar riff on the entire album, and proceeds to groove right along until Frusciante explodes with an off the wall guitar solo. Welcomed tempo changes come at the end of the song with a slower funk vibe being presented. If You Have to Ask is equally funky as Flea plays a heavily detuned, pokey (in a good way) bassline, and Anthony raps away with some amusing rhymes. An upbeat chorus is present as well, and again, presents excellent variation.
If we explore the more Rock sounding parts of this album, we will find tracks such as Suck My Kiss. The opening bassline sounds like something Rage Against the Machine would write. The song is high energy, and very much of interest to hear the band play in a more rock style on this predominantly Funk album. Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the same way, with an excellent melodic main riff and some deep voiced vocals from Anthony until one of the biggest “sing along” choruses of the album bursts into the song. The title track is surely an underrated highlight of the album, and is sure to please even the funkiest listeners of the band. My Lovely Man is another Rock influenced track that flows back and forth between funk and Rock nicely.
As expected however, more of the funk continues. The Righteous and the Wicked is a pokey, sneaky song that features more of the same, fun, instrumentally tight as hell funk that the album is famous for. Give It Away, one of the hits off the album, gets my vote for catchiest song on the album. It’s more of the same good time funk and rapping, but again it’s the subtle differences that make the variation on this record amazing.
And yes, how could we forget the ballads on this album? Coming from the Red Hot Chili
Peppers, many people thought that a song that sounded, well, “normal”, was impossible for the band to pull off. But the doubters were proven wrong with Under The Bridge. Everything about this song is near perfect. From Frusciante’s free flowing strummed guitar lines, light percussion, and the true vocal highlight of the album from Anthony, with his lyrics dealing with his past (and still to come in his future) heroin use. You have all heard it so, it doesn’t really need to be described, but I will say that in no way is it overrated or overplayed. There are more ballads though, such as I Could Have Lied, which is nearly just as good as Under The Bridge. The song features top notch lyrics, and beautiful acoustic guitar work, until everything culminates into the best guitar solo on the album from John Frusciante. Breaking The Girl is equally a highlight with a bit of a more foreign feel to this track. The acoustic guitar playing and vocals are again a highlight for this excellent song. It is these three songs that allowed the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s to vary their work from just funk, and make a truly amazing album. As a result, their experiments worked, and now are free to write in a multitude of styles and genres.
And finally we get to Anthony Kiedis, whose vocals are the icing on the cakes for the band. While a good majority of the album is Anthony spitting hard hitting, raps, he exemplifies the rare ability to incorporate some actual good lyrical writing while keeping his raps fun. A good example is in If You Have To Ask-
“A wanna be gangster thinkin’ he’s a wise guy, rob another bank he’s a sock ‘em in the eye guy”
“Most in the race, just loose their grace, to the blackest hole in all of space Crooked as a hooker now suck my thumb, anybody wanna come get some?”
As I said, quirky and fun are the best adjectives to describe the raps on this album. On Give It Away, more of the same is exemplified-
“Greedy little people in a sea of distress, keep your more to receive your less
Unimpressed by material excess, love is free love so me say hell yes!”
In Under The Bridge however, Anthony takes a more deep approach to his lyrics (his heroin and cocaine addictions), combined with the emotional chord progression, the result is a phenomenal piece of work-
“Sometimes I feel like, I don’t have a partner, sometimes I feel like, my only friend
Is the city I live in, the city of angels, lonely as I am, together we cry.”
“Under the Bridge downtown, is where I drew some blood
Under The Bridge Downtown, I could not get enough.”
As you can see, Kiedis delivers a varied lyrical style on the album, always keeping things interesting.
And so we come to the end of this timeless album. Even after describing the album, one may ask exactly why it deserves a classic rating. The answer is simply this. Blood Sugar Sex Magik will not give everything in music, and it doesn’t try to. But for what it attempts to do, there is simply no better album out there. I can’t recommend any specific tracks to you; all I can say is to listen to this already if you haven’t. If you have heard it, well, maybe its time to give it another spin to groove along to it again.