Review Summary: A band re-ignited, and a passion revived.
However brilliant Blood Sugar Sex Magik
might have been, it’s aftermath was felt by the entire band for the remainder of the 90’s. Frusciante was basically a wreck, although still establishing his solo career, and the remaining three members experienced just as much difficulty, having to find a replacement for him, a seemingly impossible goal to achieve. Follow-up One Hot Minute
, which they recorded with Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction
, was a surprisingly great record (though one with its share of flaws), but yet something was missing. Everybody, including Frusciante, had felt the need to get back together, and when Flea came to the guitarist with the proposal of a reunion, he happily accepted. Thus, it was that Red Hot Chili Peppers was complete again towards the end of the 90’s, and in the decade’s last year, they released the record that would set them indefinitely on the map once more: Californication
Not only was their new and seventh studio album paired with the reunion of the classic formation, it was also very much a turning point for the band. Calfornication
enters a wholly new path, one only hinted at on the band’s previous two records. Not so much crazy funk rock for the boys, but rather a clean, melodic and therefore accessible setting was going to do the trick this time. Luckily for the band, it was also going to be one of their best records yet.
Frusciante’s progress had been simply remarkable. To fully understand how the transition between the heavier Blood Sugar Sex Magik
and smoother Californication
came to be for the guitarist, it is vital to know about the musician’s life in the period between those two albums: the majority of the 90’s. When he returned to his home in the summer of 1992, Frusciante entered a deep depression, which he unwisely best thought to medicate with heroin. When John was on drugs, he was happy, and for a long time, he never even felt guilty about it. According to him, doing drugs was ‘making sure you stay in touch with beauty instead of letting the ugliness of the world corrupt your soul’
. Clearly, Frusciante was steadily losing his grip on reality. It was during this period that he recorded his two first solo records, Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt
and Smile From the Streets You Hold
, both rooted heavily in psychedelic rock.
Eventually and inevitably, John’s drug habits would be getting the better of him, and he became extremely unhealthy. In 1997, after five years of addiction, Frusciante tried to quit all at once. Failing, he checked into a rehab clinic to rid his problem for good. Though forever walking with the scars of his past, Frusciante’s difficult journey was to lead him to new beliefs, which, in turn, would inspire all of his work to come. In the period after his addiction, John embraced the spiritual. He does not look back on his drug addiction as a necessarily bad period. For him, it had caused a complete rebirth, changing his life and his music:
‘I don't need to take drugs. I feel so much more high all the time right now because of the type of momentum that a person can get going when you really dedicate yourself to something that you really love. I don't even consider doing them, they're completely silly. Between my dedication to trying to constantly be a better musician and eating my health foods and doing yoga, I feel so much more high than I did for the last few years of doing drugs.
At this point I'm the happiest person in the world. These things do not *** with me at all, and I'm so proud of that—you don't know how proud I am. It's such a beautiful thing to be able to face life, to face yourself, without hiding behind drugs; without having to have anger towards people who love you. There are people who are scared of losing stuff, but you don't lose anything for any other reason than if you just give up on yourself.’
John Frusciante, a man reborn. Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band reborn.
If you grew up in the 90’s, you’ve undoubtedly heard the singles from the album. Many of the songs will be instantly familiar, and are exactly what the new Chili Peppers stood for. This renewed accessibility was caused by a simple shift in the band’s dynamics. For the first time in the band’s history, the lead section really starts to outdo the rhythm section. Because of the massive change that he underwent in his life, Frusciante’s playing had become far and far more optimistic, as he lays down one excellent melodic line and solo after the other. But as significant as his new approach may have been, it is not the only thing that defines Californication
Who’d have thought that, 10 years ago, Anthony Kiedis would ever be able to sing clean vocals with such expression and almost, sweetness? (granted, he is backed up regularly by Frusciante) The choruses to the three hit songs, Scar Tissue
(‘With the birds I’ll share/ this lonely view’
(How long, how long will I slide/ separate my side, I don’t/I don’t believe it’s bad
) and the title track (‘Dream of Californication/Dream of Californication’
) are instantly recognizable, even if Kiedis’ lyrics got almost painfully abstract on this album, and will be bound to be stuck in your head for some time. Though all of them have been overplayed, the sheer appeal remains clear.
Kiedis and Frusciante continue to dominate most of the tracks. Cuts such as Easily
and This Velvet Glove
are led almost solely by Kiedis' vocal melodies and Frusciante’s guitar, and songs with rougher parts, such as Emit Remmus
, give little time for Flea and Smith to show their skill.
This, however, is not entirely to blame on balance in the band themselves. Digital recording was booming in the 90’s, and in accordance to the ‘louder = better’ ethic of many record companies, Californication
was overcompressed. Because everything is loud, it is hard to distinguish the lines in the music, as opposed to the production on Blood Sugar Sex Magik
. Given the more accessible nature of the record , however, this is not as big an issue as it would have been on earlier records. That doesn’t mean bass and drums fail to appear at all. Moments such as the intros to Around the World
and Parallel Universe
, as well as Otherside
and Get on Top
, remind of how well the ryhthm section plays together. Still, it is a subpar representation of what they can do.
Aside from these missteps, Californication
tends to remain rock solid. The only other thing is that, though they are still very decent tracks, songs that tend to borrow off traditional RHCP-style, such as the rap-dominated Get On Top
and I Like Dirt
, fail to fit in completely with the dominant accessibility of the album. With later cuts such as Purple Stain
and Right on Time
, however, the band makes up for it in successfully mixing their early and later styles.
Californication closes with the beautiful Road Trippin’
. Solely made up of Frusciante’s acoustic guitar, Kiedis’ relaxing voice and a less prominent but fitting organ appearance, the track is a testament, not only to the new style the Red Hot Chili Peppers embrace at the end of the 90’s, but also to a now more positive and upbeat outlook on music. Especially from Frusciante, you can hear a passion that simply wasn’t there to begin with. As he went through a shift, so did the band eventually with him. Without John’s rebirth, there would not have been anything close to Californication
at all. For that, it will remain one of the best records this band has ever created.
Californication’s Red Hot Chili Peppers were:
- Anthony Kiedis ~ Lead Vocals
- Michael Peter ‘Flea’ Balzary ~ Bass Guitar, Trumpet
- John Anthony Frusciante ~ Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards
- Chad Gaylord Smith ~ Drums, Percussion
This Velvet Glove
TO BE CONTINUED…