Review Summary: The Chili Peppers are back, but unfortunately they won't get any better than this.
I'm seeing RHCP tonight so why not celebrate with a quick little review?
I really respect the way the Chili Peppers have stayed as prominent as they are in the music industry for over 20 years. Since BSSM the Chili Peppers have made 5 more records and while none of them could touch BSSM, all 5 were great alternative albums (or even metal in the case of "One Hot Minute") and I have rated every one of their post-BSSM albums a 3.5 or higher on Sputnik. Most of the albums lacked a key quality that kept them short of being great though: One Hot Minute was too abrasive and the guitar was distorted and annoying, also John had left the band by now. By the Way was unbalanced in the sense that Flea's songwriting presence was greatly diminished. The first disc of Stadium Arcadium completely overshadows the second. And I'm With You sees the funk roots returning but not nearly as good as they once were, and once again John had left band. However, one album in this mix is deserving of more praise than any other and the way it mixed rock and funk into an almost perfect blend (see BSSM for the perfection of this genre) was purely amazing. After eight years without making a truly great album, the Chili Peppers reunited with their old guitarist John Frusciante and set out to record one of the defining records of my youth, Californication.
Californication is the true definition of a modern rock record: powerful, aggressive at times, guitar-driven, sweeping vocals, and at times very emotional. Oh and did I mention that the mix is SUPER LOUD? That's what makes a modern rock record these days I guess. The end solo of "Parallel Universe" is masterful, yes, and very Hendrix-influenced. But the fact that my ears are bleeding due to the volume distracts me from the solo and ultimately makes the solo pointless in the first place. That being said, some of the softer tracks on the album are my favorites because of this fatal flaw. "Scar Tissue", the lead single from Californication, showed RHCP taking a new direction in there songwriting and altogether focusing more on melody rather than rhythm. And although there are great new melodic rock tracks on the album like "Otherside", the title track, and "This Velvet Glove" (which is another kick-ass tune crippled by bad mixing) the funk is still alive, and they have infused it with melodic rock perfectly. The way the bass-driven verses of "Around the World" contrast to its beautiful chorus is amazing after 13 years. Two tracks, "Emit Remmus" and "I Like Dirt" are often singled out as the worst on the album, but I respectfully disagree. There were a lot of tracks like that on Mother's Milk or Uplift and nobody complained: what has changed that makes them bad? But the best, funkiest track on the album has to be "Purple Stain". It sees John returning to his old guitar technique from BSSM that was so funky and mysterious, with Flea and Chad driving the song and continually proving they can't be beat as a rhythm section. Anthony delivers an amazing vocal performance on the song before the rest of the band takes it on with a 90-second jam session before the song ends. The album even sees RHCP trying their luck at a ballad: "Porcelain" is a song about an alcoholic single mother that Anthony met at a YMCA. It is hands-down his best vocal performance from the album and Flea proves that he is not always trying to squeeze every note possible into a measure. Chad's drums are used sparingly on the track, but when they are it leads into John's beautiful guitar interludes that make the track so great. RHCP at times on this record try to make a true, balls-out alternative song like on "Savior", using lots of distortion and varying dynamics. It's a great attempt and the soft dynamic still takes my breath away, but 5 minutes was a little too long and the song eventually gets repetitive as hell.
The only real bad songs on the album are the final two tracks. "Right on Time" could have been a masterpiece. Maybe even one of the best songs in RHCP's catalog, but nooo. They had to go and make it less than two minutes. The song abruptly ends just when you think it's about to get good and that still pisses me off. Oh and did I mention that it's yet another victim of horrible mixing? "Road Trippin'" is the Peppers' second attempt at a ballad on the record, and boy is it repetitive and stupid. Chad is completely absent, and while he barely did anything on Porcelain, when he did do something it added a whole new dimension to the song. He adds a whole different dimension to the band! And they just decided to scrap him for what also had potential to be an amazing song. The lyrics are trite and boring and have been written countless times before, the guitar progression never changes, and altogether it's just 3 1/2 minutes of boredom.
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best song)
Around The World*
This Velvet Glove