Review Summary: Funk rock mastery coming at a steep price.Blood Sugar Sex Magik
. For the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it was more than just their fifth and best album. It was an immediate breakthrough, far greater than the minor success the band had already achieved with Mother’s Milk
. With singles Give It Away
and Under the Bridge
, the quartet was suddenly catapulted into fame, and the album became an international hit, eventually selling more than 12 million copies. All the fame and fortune had its drawbacks, however. Coupled with a drug addiction that had haunted and would continue to haunt him for some time, the fame was too much of a toll to take for John Frusciante. During touring, he abruptly quit the band, breaking a formation that, for the first time in Chili Peppers history, had managed to record two consecutive albums. In the end, Frusciante’s withdrawal might have very well helped bolstering the album’s popularity even more.
But Blood Sugar
’s classic status does not stand because of a couple of well-placed singles and an infamous departure. Their fifth album was where the band finally got the formula they had been tuning with in their early years perfectly right. The production is a first reason for this. On several occasions, it had been disappointing (notably The Red Hot Chili Peppers
and Mother’s Milk
). For Blood Sugar Sex Magik
, the Peppers brought in Rick Rubin, who had previously produced the infamous Reign in Blood
(Rubin had been their first choice for a producer since some time). Since then, he has gone on to produce every album for the band. Rubin’s production balances everything out nicely, reducing Frusciante’s guitar noise that was too prominent on Mother’s Milk
, in order to leave space for a clearer sound.
At this point, each band member has found a balance in their styles as well. Kiedis starts employing clean vocals to a much larger extent, as the album contains several ballads, and gets away with it perfectly well. In fact, his clean singing is surprisingly good for a real first try. Flea, always being the dominant, aggressive bass player, keeps himself calm when he needs to, and the interplay between him, Smith and Frusciante is greater than ever. The guitarist leaves his mark before his departure. He now gets a chance to display his knack for creating beautiful melodies, but an often overlooked feature of the man’s work with the band is his fantastic falsetto, applied in superb fashion in the backing vocals of several tracks.
Therefore, the material is as enduring as it ever got. Though Kiedis, being the lyricist, was pre-occupied with sexual themes as usual (Suck My Kiss
, Give It Away
, Sir Psycho Sexy
), he also took time to write about personal experiences with relationships (Breaking the Girl
, I Could Have Lied
), drug addiction (Under the Bridge
) and the loss of a good friend (My Lovely Man
, being a second tribute to Hillel Slovak, after Knock Me Down
). Due to this expanded writing, and resulting inclusion of several ballads, Blood Sugar
improved on the band’s sound in such a way it waylaid creative barriers and thus created the seminal Red Hot Chili Peppers album.
It even goes so far that the ballads belong to the very top tracks of Blood Sugar
. Breaking the Girl
and I Could Have Lied
both feature impeccable acoustic picking by Frusciante, the former slightly more upbeat and the latter somewhat sadder. Both have Kiedis putting an amount of emotion in his voice he didn’t show he was even near capable of before, with powerful but yet restrained choruses. There is the third ballad, however, that tops it all. Under the Bridge
is one of the best, if not the best song the Red Hot Chili Peppers have ever written, and it is not difficult to hear why. Frusciante gently introduces the song with a beautiful, clean and sad melody, still up there with the best he’s written, soon to be accompanied by what is Kiedis’ prime vocal moment on the album, who builds up from gentle to gradually more powerful singing. As the rhythm section softly accompanies them, the song builds up to an epic, operatic climax. The lyrics are equally effective, with topping lines during the climax: ‘Under the bridge downtown; is where I drew some blood/Under the bridge; I could not get enough/Under the bridge; forgot about my love/under the bridge; I gave my life away’
. It is, truly, a compelling song about the addiction that has plagued the band for so long.
But of course, the majority of the album runs in classic Chili funk rock, this time pretty much perfected. The crazy opener Power of Equality
, the bass-driven Suck My Kiss
and Naked in the Rain
(which even has a short solo from Flea), the lovely laid-back style on If You Have to Ask
and Funky Monks
, paired with Frusciante’s enhancing falsetto, and the true funk groove on My Lovely Man
are all more moments that indicate the variety and musical excellence of this record, but like any, Blood Sugar Sex Magik
is not without its flaws. The title track, to start with, is actually one of the weaker efforts, falling down because of a weak chorus. A similar comment can be made about the hit Give It Away
, which is, aside from its fantastic loud and overwhelming intro, actually pretty repetitive, and certainly not Kiedis’ best moment vocally. Sir Psycho Sexy
drags at 8 minutes, and closer cover They’re Red Hot
, fitting as its title may be is another of those initially hilarious but soon annoying joke tracks. Instead, the track that came before it would have done tremendously better at wrapping things up.
But no song is really a complete wrongdoing to the album. Though it would have benefited if a couple of bits and pieces had been shaved off, Blood Sugar Sex Magik
was really a classic for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. After all, it perfected the style of the band before they took a more commercial route (which was by no means a bad thing), and with its variety through the use of ballads and equally compelling slower and faster tracks, it shows the best of both worlds. And then, I’m not even counting the influence and impact it had. I wasn’t there to fully comprehend this album at the moment it was released, as that moment was a mere two months after I was born. Growing up to fall in love with the Californication
-era, I had a hard time to comprehend the classic status of Blood Sugar Sex Magik
. Today, I understand what all the fuss was all about.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik’s Red Hot Chili Peppers were:
- Anthony Kiedis ~ Lead Vocals
- Michael Peter ‘Flea’ Balzary ~ Bass Guitar, Trumpet, Backing Vocals
- John Anthony Frusciante ~ Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Chad Gaylord Smith ~ Drums, Percussion
The Power of Equality
Breaking the Girl
Suck My Kiss
I Could Have Lied
Under the Bridge
Naked in the Rain
TO BE CONTINUED…