Review Summary: Moar like chipotle, amirite?
Way back in 1995 funk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers released One Hot Minute
to eager fans with lofty expectations. The release was a follow-up to 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik
which had catapulted the group to international superstardom on the strength numerous hit singles, including “Give It Away” and the penultimate Peppers track “Under The Bridge”. Despite the success, not all were happy in the Chili’s camp. Guitarist John Frusciante grew increasingly disillusioned with the band’s popularity and place in the spotlight. He left the group mid tour 1992, electing to hole up in his California home, shoot smack, and become a guitar playing hermit for the next several years. With a gaping musical void left behind and uncertain future for the band, funky monk Anthony Kiedis got reacquainted with his own personal demons, resuming heavy drug use. After considerable effort to find a new guitarist with no joy, the Peppers hired ex Jane’s Addiction axeman Dave Navarro on the recommendation of drummer Chad Smith. Collectively, the boys were in a dark place and it was fairly evident that the inclusion of Navarro would lead to a different avenue of sound. The question was: Would it be for the better"
The creative process itself partially answers this question.
Songwriting on One Hot Minute
was not the fluid process the Chilis had grown accustomed to. While Frusciante had made collaborative songwriting painless and expedient, Navarro seemingly struggled to fit in with the group’s funk-rock aesthetic, and little new material emerged from extended studio jam sessions. Dave was more of a hard-rock oriented guitarist, and his contributions to songwriting with Jane’s Addiction had been made independently. The Peppers, however, were accustomed to a more collaborative writing style. Frustrated by a smoldering creative fire, Kiedis and Flea vacationed together on more than one occasion to pen a few songs without an outside influence . All told, the album took more than two years to write, and resulted in a mixed bag of rock that would both titillate and perplex the Pepper’s enormous mainstream fanbase.
Album opener (and first single) “Warped” is a sobering tune, clearly demonstrating that RHCP and Dave Navarro were not a match made in rock and roll heaven. The track features a heavily-distorted droning guitar lick that is a definite departure from anything on BSSM. The riff alone is passable, but combined with the deliberate delivery of Kiedis’ delay-drenched lyrics of self-loathing and addiction, “Warped” is a bummer of an introduction to a new Peppers’ sound. As the track draws to a close, we are
treated to a pleasant little outro. Perhaps the only enjoyable part of the song, the closing seems to clear away the storm clouds left in the wake of “Warped”, leaving the listener with a bit of optimism for what remains in front of them.
The singles “Aeroplane” and “My Friends” are both strong tracks in their own right, and are far more accessible than the edgier songs featured on One Hot Minute
. The former is a fairly straight forward pop-rock track with a hint of funk, while the latter is a folksy lament which compares favorably to former hits such as “Breaking the Girl” and “Under the Bridge”. In both songs Dave Navarro lends tasteful guitar solos which compliment the arrangements and improve their overall quality. It is at this juncture of classic RHCP songcraft and Navarro injected rock edge that the marriage of their disparate styles is most successful. There are other tracks here that are worthy of the same praise, yet far too often the mixed elements seem to work against each other, resulting in some very uneven tracks.
Song structure seems to be of little import when it comes to the album’s more hard rock-tinged numbers. “Deep Kick” finds Anthony in coffee house open mic mode, spouting semi-autobiographical spoken word recollections of his turbulent adolescent years. This persists for what seems to be eons before finally erupting into fits of spazzy funk-rock. “One Big Mob” rocks along in a very enjoyable manner until a half time bridge destroys the tempo and accosts the listener’s ears with some truly wretched wailing. The listener may surmise that this emanates from a woman who has just bore witness to her first born child getting run over by a car. “Trancending” follows a similar format, with an amazing song breaking down into a wall of guitar noise and warbling vocals which needlessly taint an otherwise stellar recording.
In each of the above cases, “experimental” “atmospheric” or “heavy” sections seem haphazardly slopped on top of ideas that were pretty solid to begin with. Don’t get me wrong here, I applaud how far the Chilis ventured from their safety zone with One Hot Minute
, and they do hint at some exciting musical directions fans may not have expected. Personally, I greatly enjoy the chanting section of “Falling Into Grace”, as well the introduction to “Deep Kick” and aforementioned wailing on “One Big Mob”. I even love “Pea” and Flea’s vocal contributions throughout the album. However, some of these ideas are stretched thin to the point of being transparently overwrought.
It must be noted that there are moments where Dave Navarro does seem to really click with his other band members. The title track along with “Shallow Be Thy Game” are prime examples of tight, aggressive RHCP songs that would not have been written with John Frusciante (had he just bought a pet tiger to protect his home while sleeping on a bed of cash money instead of wallowing in self-pity for having sold-out). Dave gets to let loose on these tracks, and it sounds like Flea and Chad Smith really enjoy getting caught up in it. The Chilis collectively demonstrate the ability to rock a bit harder than we may have though, but also reveal that it is not their strength. One Hot Minute
is a strong album with many memorable moments, but stylistically it is too much of a departure from other RHCP releases to be regarded as anything other than the one-off release that it is.