Review Summary: Frusciante joins the crew, and the boys slowly start ascending to stardom.
The passing of Hillel Slovak left the Red Hot Chili Peppers in shambles. Jack Irons started suffering from depression following the loss of a good friend, leaving the band shortly after (later, he would go on to join Pearl Jam
, only to leave there after two albums). Despite half the band falling out, Kiedis and Flea got themselves together and tried reforming a line-up. At first, guitarist DeWayne ‘Blackbird’ McKnight (Parliament-Funkadelic
) and drummer D.H. Peligro (Dead Kennedys
) were chosen as replacements, but the new formation failed to produce a chemistry akin to the one found on The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
. Although the two were soon fired, this led to a vital point in Chili Peppers history. Peligro was an acquaintance of a guitarist called John Frusciante, and recommended him for auditioning. Frusciante, only 19 back then, overwhelmed Kiedis and Flea with his playing, and was immediately admitted. After a longer search for a drummer, the band eventually encountered Chad Smith, who showed great interplay with Flea. In ’89, fourth album Mother’s Milk
was released, and it proved to finally become a minor breakthrough for the band.
Although nothing like their first era, Mother’s Milk
is still rooted in many of the band’s earlier tendencies. It is still very much a funk rock record, but Frusciante and Smith brought something new to the table. Frusciante had become a huge fan of Slovak, his predecessor setting a blueprint for him to build on, but liked to put more emphasis on melody than on grit. This created tensions with producer Michael Beinhorn, who gave Frusciante’s playing a loud, overpowering and noisy sound. In the end, it became a recognizable feature of the album, but in recent years, Frusciante has even refused to play anything from the album, simply because of what he sounded like. Nevertheless, this resulted in Mother’s Milk
being an excellent bridge between the band’s first and later era, in which Frusciante fully developed his clean playing. Smith, on his part, has an even more driving beat than Irons, and while not known as being one of the most technically accomplished drummer of the scene, him and Flea have righteously earned the title of one of rock’s finest rhythm sections.
This all results in the band’s most consistent and rewarding album up to that point. With Mother’s Milk
, Red Hot Chili Peppers became relevant. They were becoming a big fish. Proof is all over the place. Most will undoubtedly have heard the Stevie Wonder
cover Higher Ground
, a daring and very successful endeavour. While maintaining the groove of the original, the band make it something completely their own, and the track has easily remained their best cover. In fact, it remains one of the best songs on the album. Another true classic is the also well-known Nobody Weird Like Me
. Next to the fantastic title, the song has some of Flea’s finest and fastest bass slapping, and Kiedis is moving into more accessible vocals, making his first foray into clean singing, also heard on some of the other tracks. Moreover, he song is everything the band had worked for in the previous years: it’s frenzied, energetic fun rock with a tremendous amount of chemistry between the players.
This same chemistry is repeated throughout all of the album. The fantastic guitar/bass interplay in opener Good Time Boys
, a perfect introduction, the perfectly fitting trumpet in Subway to Venus
, the harmonized voices of Kiedis and Frusciante in the softer Knock Me Down
(a tribute to Slovak) and the addition of female backing vocals in Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky
are just a few examples of those small things that yet add so much to Mother’s Milk
. Flea is still all over the place, Kiedis’ singing is still growing, and both Frusciante and Smith make an impeccable début. Really, nothing could go wrong with the Peppers’ fourth album.
Ok, let’s not lie about it. Mother’s Milk
definitely has a few of those filler/annoying moments also present in the band’s earlier work. Magic Johnson
is another basically rap solo for Kiedis, which starts getting boring after about half a minute. The Jimi Hendrix
cover Fire (which was, by the way, still recorded with Slovak and Irons) is repetitive and doesn’t add anything to the original. Punk Rock Classic
is good a few times for humour value, but grows short soon enough (although the appeal lasts longer than the songs it was inspired upon). Pretty Little Ditty
, at 1:46, seems another obvious candidate, looking at the band’s history with tracks this length, but is actually a rather beautiful instrumental that, for a single moment in the entire album, lets Frusciante have his melodic way with his superb guitar skills, only hinting at his later work (solo and with the band). The tiny knacks are luckily not a big dent in the full picture, especially when compared to the band's previous works.
is quite simply the point where this band started becoming, well, awesome. The formation of Kiedis + Flea + Frusciante + Smith has always been the best, and their first album was immediate proof of it. It has chemistry, it has energy, and it has some of the best Chili songs right on it. Therefore, it is also the first essential album for the band, and is right up there with the Blood Sugar Sex Magik
s and Californication
s the boys created in later years. Get it, I tell you, if the tempting cover art didn’t already get you so far.
Mother’s Milk’s Red Hot Chili Peppers were:
- Anthony Kiedis ~ Lead Vocals, Art Concept
- Michael Peter ‘Flea’ Balzary ~ Bass Guitar, Trumpet
- John Anthony Frusciante ~ Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Chad Gaylord Smith ~ Drums, Percussion
Subway to Venus
Nobody Weird Like Me
Knock Me Down
Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky
TO BE CONTINUED…