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Uplift Mofo Party Plan

Red Hot Chili Peppers

1987

Judging from the poppy, melodic nature of most of the Chili Pepper's recent albums, one might forget that at one time, a long time ago, the band was anything but poppy and melodic.  On the contrary, they were downright heavy, vulgar, nasty, and dangerous, a far cry from the pop-rock darlings that they are today. 

Yes, it's hard not to catch the Chili's on most radio stations these days, but back in 1987, radio (or MTV for that matter) would not touch them with a 10 foot pole.  And as one might expect, that's because the Chili's were actually making edgy, bombastic, cutting-edge music, while other popular bands were pumping out generic cheese-metal and big-hair.  In other words, because the Chili's were dangerous and breaking new ground musically, combining punk-rock, heavy-metal, and funk into an incredibly fresh, combustible sound, they didn't jive well with the materialistic 80s mainstream culture.

And that's what makes Uplift Mofo Party Plan so good: the fact that it had nothing to do with what was popular at the time in the otherwise dreadful decade known as the 80s.  The album sports a raw, fresh, explosively rocking sound, with not a hint of a synthesizer, keyboard, or cheese to be found.  Instead we have Anthony Kiedis's uniquely raunchy and aggressive rapping, disgustingly funky slap-bass courtesy of Flea, explosive blast-beat guitar from the late Hillel Slovak, and the danceable and rhythmic drumming of Jack Irons, creating a powerfully rocking funk-infused monster.

As the title of the album suggests, Uplift Mofo Party Plan sounds like a wild and out of control party, a sound that reflects a tumultuous time in the band's history, as lead signer Anthony Kiedis and guitarist Hillel Slovak were both battling nasty heroin addictions at the time the album was recorded.  Regardless if the sound on the album is drug-fueled or not, it's still one hell of a sound.

Take the opening track "Fight Like A Brave" for example, a song that jumps out of the speakers with an undeniably powerful rhythmic stomp.  It's simply not possible to sit still to this song, with its explosive and celebratory sound, it will get you moving.  It's a fun song and a fitting way to start the album.

"Funky Crime" follows, with its disgustingly delightful funky sound.  It's slow, dirty, and it rocks hard.  A big difference in Uplift Mofo Party Plan and the Chili's earlier albums is that here they learned to harness their combustible sound to create a fantastic rhythm, as opposed to just blasting out of the speakers full-throttle.  The result is more rhythm, deeper grooves, and a more explosive sound when they do decide to rev it up.

A good example is on "Me and My Friends" and "Backwoods" the latter of which features some infectious bass playing by Flea.  The combination of Kiedis's aggressive delivery and the band rocking whole heartedly in unision behind him creates quite a combustable combination, and it's really a lot of fun to listen to.

But it's not all bombastic beats and blazing guitars, as the Chili's first foray into melodic territory happens on the groovy "Behind the Sun".  It's a chill and laid back song, with a borderline psychedelic quality to it, offering a nice break from the action that surrounds it.  The track really kind of foreshadows the beachy/melodic direction the band would explore on future albums, so it's an interesting listen, and a sublimely beautiful song to boot.  It's right at home on any hot summer day at the beach, and in my book, it's a Chili Pepper classic.

Speaking of classics, the band showcases their excellent taste in music by covering Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues", which of course sounds nothing like the original, but the Chili's do a great job of making it sound right at home with their raucous rap-rock rendition.  Their raunchiness peaks out with the dirty (both in sound and subject) "Party on Your P***y", and the vengefully aggressive "No Chump Love Sucker", both of which are jam-packed with vulgar and offensive lyrics, but the grooves and energy make it oh so right.

Speaking of grooves, the following track "Walkin On Down the Road" is possibly the most groovingly hard-rocking track on the album, as Slovak's guitar playing and the band's rhythm is straight up dirty dirty dirty on this song.  It's really shame how good this song is.  Disgusting.

Perhaps the most dynamic, fun, and interesting song on the entire album follows with "Love Trilogy" which starts out playful, chill, and loungey, but eventually builds up, the intensity and rhythm in lockstep with each other, ultimately exploding into an incredibly badass thrashy-dancey jam that is downright righteous to behold.  The build-up in this song is fantastic, the payoff even better, and then they reverse the tempo, rhythmically slowing it down back to the slow loungey vibe that the song started with.  Brilliant.

The last song on the album "Organic Anti-Beat Box Band" closes out the album on a fittingly celebratory note, with it's raucous and infectious sound, a sound that is a good summation of the entire album.

Uplift Mofo Party Plan would be the last album recorded with Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons, as Slovak would tragically lose his battle with heroin addiction shortly after the release of the album, and Irons quit the band, unable to cope with the loss.  So in essence, the old Red Hot Chili Peppers died after this album, and they would eventually go in a different direction musically, with a greater focus on melody.

It's interesting to speculate what might have been had Slovak survived, and how it would have impacted the sound of the band in the future.  As it turned out, the Chili's went on to make better albums, but they also went on to make more underwhelming albums too. 

So Uplift Mofo Party Plan stands as an interesting artifact of a band that looks, sounds, and feels so much different today.  It stands as a testament to the band's wildest, hardest partying days, and to this day is probably the heaviest, most rocking album the Chili's ever produced.  And for that reason, along with the fact that the band were bolding trailblazing an invigorating style of music amidst a stale music scene, makes Uplift Mofo Party Plan a classic album. 

8.9

Mother's Milk

Red Hot Chili Peppers

1989

A lot had happened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers between the release of their prior album Uplift Mofo Party Plan in 1987 and 1989's Mother's Milk.  Their founding guitar player, Hillel Slovak, died of a heroin overdose in 1988, and their drummer Jack Irons subsequently quit the band as a result, leaving only Anthony Kiedis and Flea left to pick up the pieces.

Admist such devastation and heartbreak, most bands would have probably packed it up and called it a day, but Kiedis and Flea decided to press on, recruiting new drummer Chad Smith and a 19 year old kid (and diehard fan of the band) named John Frusciante to take up lead guitar duties.  In the process, Anthony Kiedis sobered up and kicked his own nasty heroin addiction, and with that, a new era of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was born.

John Frusciante certainly had some big shoes to fill in replacing Slovak and as well as the pressure of playing alongside his favorite band, but it soon becomes clear over the course of the album that Frusciante was more than capable of delivering the hard rock goods, proving to be a very gifted guitarist in his own right.  His explosive guitar playing is all the more impressive considering the fact that he was only 19 years old at the time.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Chili's suffered very little in the way of growing pains with the addition of 2 brand new members to the band, as Mother's Milk basically picks up right where Uplift Mofo Party Plan left off, with the raucous and celebratory opener "Good Time Boys".  It's not quite as good of an opener as "Fight Like A Brave" but it's pretty damn close, effectively establishing that the new lineup of the Chili's were just as explosive sonically as the original, and that the they were back in full force, and ready to rock.  They sound rejuvinated and exciting on "Good Time Boys" like they're ready to conquer the world (which they effectively would in a few years time).

After that explosive opener, the band serves up the best cover song of their career with "Higher Ground".  If you thought it was impossible to top Stevie Wonder's classic original, you haven't heard the Chili's rendition.  It is a seriously hard-rocking, pulsating, thrash-tastic song, further solidifying that the new lineup of the Chili Peppers were truly onto something special.

The intensity and high-energy continues on the next track "Subway to Venus", as the band pulls out all the stops on this song, blazing guitar, dizzyingly fast drumming, and they even throw in some horns for good measure, a sign of the band's increasingly more dynamic sound.  After the spastic ode to the Lakers on "Magic Johnson", the Chili's push the boundaries of of their sonic capabilities with the powerful "Nobody Weird Like Me".  It is almost overwhelming in it's speed and intensity, but that only adds to the song's power.  It rocks hard, really hard, impressively so, before slowing it down at the end of the song with a sick, psychedelic-flavored down-tempo jam.  Wicked song.

After that set of songs, the Chili's have more than made their point that they can rock really, really hard and fast, which is great, but the best is yet to come.  The band really take their sound to a new level on the next 2 tracks, which are arguably the best 2 tracks on the entire album.  "Knock Me Down" and "Taste the Pain" aren't the best songs on the album because they're the fastest, the loudest, or the heaviest, but rather because of their melodies and structure.  "Knock Me Down" is an absolutely righteous Chili Peppers classic, and is really the first time Anthony Kiedis ups his game lyrically, actually delivering a positive, heartfelt message with an earnest and sincere vibe.  Its easily one of the best songs of their career, still holding up to this day alongside their many classics.  Righteous.

Another under-rated classic is "Taste the Pain", which is one of the funkiest, coolest songs the Chili's ever made.  It's just a rad song, difficult to describe, but it has a great chorus, a sultry vibe, and a fantastic horn solo by Flea.  It closes out on a beautifully sublime, mellow note.  Overall a great song, and along with "Knock Me Down" it really showcases the dynamic new range that John Frusciante brought to the band, along with Kiedis's newly found knack for melody in his delivery.

Speaking of melody, the Chili's turn in their best instrumental piece of their career on the beautiful and sensual "Pretty Little Ditty".  It's somewhat in the same vain as "Behind the Sun" but with a more dymanic and sublime melody.  Really a beautiful piece.

Another highlight on the album is the sultry "Sexy Mexican Maid".  John's guitar playing on this song is lights-out, and the band even throws in a saxaphone into the mix, which suits the song's hedonistic vibe.  It's a delightfully funky and dirty song.

So overall, despite a couple of songs that sound a bit too rushed/underdeveloped (but would be undeniably fun in a live setting) Mother's Milk is a fantastic album that pushed the boundaries of what the band could do sonically while adding new melodic textures into the frey as well.  The result is a fresh, exciting sound from a band that was on the cusp of realizing their true potential, something they would finally achieve with flying colors on their next album Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

9.0

Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Red Hot Chili Peppers

1991

Prior to 1991, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had broken a lot of ground musically.  They were one of the first bands to successfully infuse the disparate sounds funk, rap, and punk-rock together, creating a new and exciting brand of music in the process.

That said, prior to the release of their breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the general feeling about the Chili's was that they were a good band, a dynamic band, a fresh band, but they hadn't really harnessed their full potential yet.

In fairness, there were plenty of reasons for that.  Shortly after the band started to hit their stride with 1987's Uplift Mofo Party Plan, their founding guitar player Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose, which led to the departure of their drummer at the time, Jack Irons.  In the process of rebuilding the band, they struck gold with the additions of new drummer Chad Smith and a young guitar prodigy (and diehard fan of the band) John Frusciante.  The resulting album, Mother's Milk, was their most successful record to date, building on the raucous vibe of Uplift Mofo Party Plan while adding new melodic textures to the mix as well.

After recording that record, the band got an opportunity to truly gel on the subsequent tour, and they returned to the studio 2 years later to record their follow-up album.  Actually, they didn't record the album in a traditional studio, but rather the mansion that magician Harry Houdini lived in back in the 1920s (which was rumored by some members of the band to be haunted).

It's difficult to say how much of a factor the setting played in the resulting sound of the album, but for whatever reason, Blood Sugar Sex Magik sports a much different feel and vibe than any of the band's prior releases.  It's the sound of a band maturing and evolving as musicians, slowing down the tempos, getting deeper into the grooves, exploring the melodies, and adding a greater sense of emotional depth to the songs.  While prior albums focused primarily on speed and power, Blood Sugar Sex Magik emphasizes melody and restraint, and the result is more fully-realized, dynamically structured songs.

What's probably most noticeable about the band's sound on Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the evolution of John Frusciante's guitar playing, and the newfound chemistry between himself, Flea, and Chad Smith.  Frusciante's playing on Mother's Milk was powerful and distortion-heavy, as he would later comment that he felt his playing on the album was "too macho" in sound.  As impressive sonically as his playing was on Mother's Milk, he really takes his craft to a new level on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, albeit with a much different style.  His playing is almost spare in comparison, with much more focus on melody and less emphasis on power cords.  As a result, this minimalistic approach allowed more room for Flea to focus on the groove and less on his traditionally fast, slap-bass style.  Flea and Frusciante play off of each other brilliantly throughout the album, and Chad Smith's drumming compliments them well with his more rhythmic, beat-focused style.  He's not trying to pummel his drumkit on this album, he's more concerned with the beat.

So in a nutshell, the band sound much more chilled-out on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and their chemistry as a group was at it's peak.  Not only was the band musically clicking on all cylinders, but frontman Anthony Kiedis really steps up his game as a vocalist as well.  Kiedis sounds much more focused and seasoned on the album, and his lyrics reflect that on the majority of the songs.

Take the rap-tastic opening track for example "Power of Equality".  Kiedis comes out like a prize-fighter heading into a heavy-weight bout, with his pointed and topical raps flowing out effortlessly as the band jams to an infectious groove behind him.  The song soon transitions to the hypnotically funky "If You Have to Ask".  The Chili's really ascend to new heights on this track, as Kiedis spits stream-of-consciousness-type lyrics amidst the sublimely chill backdrop of Flea's bass, Chad's drums, and John's noodling on guitar, occasionally interrupted by the giddy chorus of the song, adding a quirky brand of soul and funk to the mix.  The song ends with an absolutely disgustingly gritty and dirty guitar solo by Mr. Frusciante, one the best solo's of his career. 

If you happen to be listening to the beginning of this album in the right setting, preferably on a warm sunny beach with an ice cold beer handy, it is a fact that you will start levitating out of your body during the course of "If You Have to Ask", as your soul, body, and mind become one with the music and the surrounding serenity.  It has that effect, and it's that good.

If you haven't started levitating with "If You Have to Ask" you most certainly will on the following track "Breaking The Girl".  Simply put, this is easily one of the best Chili Peppers songs of all time, possessing an almost spiritual quality with it's soulful acoustic sound.  It's a beautiful song, it's sweet, heavily melodic, yet still sounds very raw at the same time.  It sounds almost tribal in nature, particularly the drum-jam towards the end of the song, which really captures the emotionally rawness of the track.  This song sounds ancient and timeless, really a unique piece in the Chili Pepper's catalog and easily one of the best songs they (or anybody) ever created.

After the incredibly dynamic nature of the opening tracks, the Chili's really kick-back and settle into their down-tempo groove on "Funky Monks", an aptly titled track that is laid-back and funky in nature.  It sounds right at home on any hot summer day, with its chilled-out beachy vibe.  The boys then kick up the tempo with the incredibly awesome "Suck My Kiss".  This song rocks hard, and has one of the sickest rhythms on the entire album.  And it doesn't rock hard because it's heavy (it's not really) but rather because of its driving, infectious groove which is virtually impossible to sit still to.  This song is funk-rock personified and another Chili Peppers classic.

The following track is also a Chili Peppers classic in most people's book, albeit a somewhat under-rated classic since it was never released as a single.  "I Could Have Lied" is effectively the first ballad on a Chili's album and it works quite well.  This is a perfect example of Kiedis's newfound emotional depth as a lyrist, as he delivers this song with an earnest and heartfelt sincerity.  It has a somewhat somber tone, sounding convincingly authentic in the process.  A fantastic ballad and real highlight.

If one is not listening closely, the next 2 tracks "Mellowship Slinky in B Major" and "The Righteous and the Wicked" might sound like borderline filler material sandwiched between a great ballad and the notorious single "Give It Away".  But in actuality, both songs feature some of Frusciante's most dynamic and intricate guitar playing on the entire album.  "Mellowship..." starts out with a raunchy, classic-rock inspired opening jam that quickly transitions into a funky and quirky sound with Frusciante and Flea delicately playing off one another.  "The Righteous and the Wicked" has a bluesy down-tempo sound.  It's got a gritty and soulful "slow-burn" vibe to it, another high quality contribution from the band.

The aforementioned "Give It Away" follows, which is a classic in anyone's book.  Similar in sound to "Suck My Kiss" this song was THE summer anthem for years to come, largely because of Kiedis's infamous lyrics and delivery.  It's catchy, there's no way around it, but what's most impressive about this song is again Frusciante's guitar playing.  Nobody sounded like this guy back then, as his unique style is really on full display on this track.  Chad's drumming provides the absolutely perfect beat for Flea and John to noodle around each other, and with Kiedis's catchy and smooth flow laid on top, you have a quintessential Chili Peppers classic.

The Chili's take the tempo down a notch with the slow and sultry title track, which provides a nice buffer between the 2 biggest singles on the album.

But to call the following track a "single" really does not do "Under the Bridge" justice.  This song is so much more than that.  It's not just a good catchy song, its the best song of the Chili Peppers career, and in my personal opinion, the best song of the entire decade, and depending on my mood, the best song ever.  Period.  It's difficult to describe how powerfully this song resonates with me on an emotional level.  It's a song about loneliness and it's a sad song, yes, but it does not feel too weighty or negative.  It has an uplifting quality as well.  The honesty and beauty of the song make it all the more powerful.  Although somber in tone, it is light on its feet, thanks to John's intricate noodling throughout.  It just has an incredibly relatable quality that is really unexplainable.  The song is soothing, soulful, honest, relatable, endearing, unique, and beautiful.  It's "Under the Bridge" and it's one of my personal favorite songs of all time.

Its virtually impossible to follow-up a song like that, but the Chili's do a fine job of it by kicking up the tempo with the incredibly fun "Naked In the Rain".  Flea's bass-line is wickedly funky and danceable on this song, and it possesses such an upbeat quality that it manages to suck you right out of the emotional weight that proceeded it and back into the infectious funk-rock vibe that dominates the album.

Speaking of funk, the following track "Apache Rose Peacock" is one of the most groovingly funky songs on the album, with its laid-back swagger.  A great song and another highlight on the album.  "The Greeting Song" follows, kicking up the tempo again in the same vain as "Naked In the Rain", as by this point in the album, the Chili's have established an infectiously fun vibe that flows through the songs following "Under the Bridge".

That fun vibe continues with the soulful and endearing "My Lovely Man" an ode to the bands fallen guitarist Hillel Slovak.  Not only does the song rock, but it is funky as hell and celebratory in nature.  Flea contributes some fantastic bass to close out the song, as Chad Smith jams away behind him, the sound becoming gradually spare and sweeter in nature towards the end.  Overall a righteous tribute Slovak (R.I.P.)

To close out the album, the band saves their raunchiest, dirtiest song for last with "Sir Psycho Sexy".  As the title suggests, this song is laced with sex-obsessed lyrics that only add to its raunchy vibe.  But the band manages to ascend above the hedonistic vibe by closing out the song with a sublimely smooth and beautiful melody.  The instrumental jam that dominates the 2nd half of the song is wickedly sublime, and effectively finishes the album on a transcendent note.

Well, that's not entirely true, as the Chili's throw-in a quick and spastic track "They're Red Hot" to officially close out the album, which most folks could probably do without, but who's complaining?

So despite the record ending on a slightly quirky note, "They're Red Hot" does nothing to take away from an overall outstanding album.  Not only is Blood Sugar Sex Magik outstanding, but it stands to this day as the best album of the Red Hot Chili Peppers career, in addition to being one of the best (or in my opinion THE best) albums of the 1990s.  And why?  Because this album has it all.  Funk, rock, rap, punk, ballads.  You name it, it has it.

Not only that, but look at the people delivering the goods.  Flea is one of the most influential bass players of all time and he expanded his style greatly on this album. John Frusciante is one of the greatest guitar players of his generation, and in many circles one of the greatest guitar players of all time.  He really came into his own on this album and made a name for himself.  His guitar playing on Blood Sugar Sex Magik speaks for itself.  Chad Smith contributed the perfect beats to compliment Flea and John, proving himself to the one of the best drummers in the business in the process.  And Anthony Kiedis delivered his best lyrics and vocal performance of his career, and he has yet to top it. 

Sometimes everything comes together at the right time for a band, and that was certainly the case for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, an album that still sounds as fresh and original today as it did way back in 1991.  A classic album, the Chili's at their peak, and my pick for best album of the 1990s.

9.9

One Hot Minute

Red Hot Chili Peppers

1995

The trouble with this album is that it just sounds awkward and unfocused most of the time.  There are a few really good songs to be found here, but listening to the album straight through can be a decidedly unsatisfying experience.  It's a curious listen, no doubt, as Kiedis had fallen off the wagon again, and Navarro just doesn't really jive with the Chili Pepper's style.  It's not really bad, but there's a lack of chemistry here, so suffice to say that One Hot Minute pales in comparison to what came immediate before and after it.  If it weren't for "Aeroplane", "My Friends", "Transcending" and maybe a couple of other songs, this would have been a complete failure.  As it is, it's just disappointing and flawed...and weird...but not terrible...

8.1

Californication

Red Hot Chili Peppers

1999

Prior to 1999, a lot of people had given up on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  The decade started out on a great note, as the band released the best album of their career in 1991.  But the rest of the decade was not a good one for the band.  Shortly after the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and the subsequent tour that followed, John Frusciante abruptly quit the band, slowly descending into a nasty heroin addiction that nearly killed him in the following years. 

This left the Chili's with a seriously huge void to fill, so the band recruited former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro for their next album One Hot Minute.  It took the band over 4 years to release the album, and during that time Anthony Kiedis relapsed into heroin addiction after years of sobriety.  That, along with the addition of Navarro, who's style differed greatly from the band's, resulted in an uneven, disappointing album that received very little in the way of positive reviews upon it's release.

Fast-forward to 1998, the band had fired Navarro and were once again left without a guitar player, basically on the verge of breaking up.  Meanwhile John Frusciante had cleaned up his drug addiction, and was subsequently asked to rejoin the band, an invitation that he gladly accepted.

So roughly 8 years after the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the original recording lineup for that album were finally reunited, and the result was the critically acclaimed Californication.  One might think that having the original lineup back together would result in a similar sound and vibe to their last outing, but that is not really the case with Californication.  Whereas Blood Sugar Sex Magik was raunchy and raw in sound, Californication sounds poppy and polished by comparison.  This sound is not all that surprising considering the fact that the band was now 8 years older and more mature as a result.  There was also a lot riding on this album after the disappointing One Hot Minute, so the band seems intent on focusing more on the melodic aspects of their sound and trying to make the most well-rounded, catchy songs as possible.

But despite the polished, poppy sound on the album, the Chili's sound rejuvenated and fresh throughout, and no song better captures that spirit of renewal than the opening track "Around the World".  The band comes blasting out of the speakers full-throttle to start off the song, making clear that the Chili's are back and ready to rock.  The song (like the rest of the album) is catchy as hell, featuring all the trademark ingredients that make a great Chili Peppers song: Kiedis's rapping, Flea's funky bass, Chad laying down a tight beat, and John's much missed melodic guitar textures.  It's a Chili Pepper's classic and a fantastic way to start off the album.

The following track "Parallel Universe" is sonically and melodically spectacular, and is definately one of the best singles on the album, which is really saying something considering the numerous high-quality singles found on Californication.  Take the next song "Scar Tissue" for example.  A very mellow and somber track, it tries to capture the softly spare and melodic vibe of such classics as "Under the Bridge" and "Soul to Squeeze" and does a pretty damn good job of it in the process.  It's a really beautiful song, not quite as good as the aforementioned classics, but it is still nonetheless one of the Chili's best ballads to date.

Another great single is the dark and gripping "Otherside" which is also spare and somber in tone.  Its very effective, sporting more beautiful melodies but with a dark undercurrent running throughout the track.  The album's title track also features a beautifully intricate melody as well, making it one of the best known and most successful singles on the album.

The singles are really compelling to listen to, especially when they were first released, as at the time, the Chili's hadn't really fully explored their melodic tendencies.  These songs sound fully realized with a borderline epic quality to them, and it was exciting to hear the newly rejoined band harnessing their full melodic potential.

But the album is not all about melody and ballads.  The Chili's really shine through when they explode out of the speakers on such tracks as the hard-rocking "Get on Top" and the uplifting/catchy "Easily".  They also don't forget to bring the funk on tracks like "Purple Stain" which frankly rivals any of their older material as one of the funkiest songs they ever wrote.  Flea's bassline is disgusting on this song.

Ultimately though, the Chili's are at their most compelling in their more emotionally weighty songs.  Many of the singles capture that feeling, and tracks like "This Velvet Glove" and "Savior" really add a strong emotional dynamic to the album.  And the two softest tracks on the album "Porcelain" and "Road Trippin" add an extra layer of sensitivity and warmth to the album, making it feel like a more intimate listening experience.

On Californication, the Chili's sound like a group of old friends who have been to hell and back and survived, finally reunited after several dark years to once again make beautiful music together again.  They sound grateful, reflective, and indebted to each other, which gives the album a uniquely warm, sensitive, and endearing quality.

Californication marked the beginning of a new era for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one that put to rest the wild, raunchy, and hard-partying vibe of years past and gave birth a new, sober, poppier band with a squeaky clean image.  And although many of us miss the "good ole days" when the Chili's were more cutting-edge and raw in sound, the band's new focus on the melody would yield some undeniably positive results in the coming years, and would be further explored more deeply on the band's next album By The Way.

9.3

By The Way

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2002

The Chili Pepper's 1999 album Californication propelled the band back onto the radar of the alternative rock scene, ranking highly on many "Best-Of" lists for the year and earning the Chili's a new generation of fans in the process.

The band's newfound sense of melody on Californication certainly had a lot to do with the success of the album, so it makes sense that the Chili's chose to further explore their melodic tendencies on their follow-up album By The Way. 

That being said, what is somewhat surprising about By The Way is just how melody-intensive and subdued the album sounds compared to their prior efforts.  On By The Way, the Chili's have all but abandoned their hard hitting brand of funk-rock that made them famous.  In its place are mellower songs with sweeping choruses, lush guitar tones, subdued bass, easy rhythmic drumming, and an undeniably poppy vibe.

That's not to say that this newfound sense of melody is a bad thing, since it is hard to deny the fact that most of the Chili Pepper's best songs were those that carried the most emotional weight, which in turn were typically their ballads like "Under The Bridge" or "Scar Tissue" for example.  And the Chili's had certainly hinted at a more melodic direction as evidenced by several tracks on Californication, but By The Way really takes their melodic impulses into new territory.

And its interesting territory too, as while the vast majority of the album is quite poppy in nature, the band does a good job experimenting with some unique melodic textures throughout By The Way.  A good example of this is on "Universally Speaking", which has an almost magical, uplifting quality to it.  Its a joyous song with a beautiful melody, sounding almost Beatlesque with its hints of psychadelica in the chorus. 

Other good examples of the Chili's broadening their sound include "The Zephyr Song" which features some computer generated beats and "Midnight" which includes a sweeping violin intro, creating a brooding yet sensual atmosphere for the song.  Both tracks feature memorable choruses and some beautiful melodies.

But as mentioned prior, the best songs on By The Way are those that carry the most emotional weight.  After the upbeat "Universally Speaking" the Chili's deliver 3 back-to-back moodier pieces, starting with the dark yet compelling "This is the Place", then the incredibly sweet and somber "Dosed", followed by the dreary yet gripping "Don't Forget Me".  These songs do an excellent job of sucking the listener into the album with their strong emotional resonance, giving the album a more personal and intimate feel.

That vibe continues on the romantic and endearing "I Could Die For You", which is a perfect segway into the equally sensual "Midnight".  It's hard to believe that the same guy who wrote "Sir Psycho Sexy" also wrote these 2 songs, which is just further evidence of how significantly different Anthony Kiedis's mindset was compared to a decade earlier.

But Kiedis can still spit white-boy raps with the best of them, as evidenced on the catchy "Can't Stop".  As a rapper, Kiedis sounds much more seasoned and wiser compared to his younger days on this track, which really adds to the endearing quality of the song.  "Cabron" is yet another highlight, with it's upbeat and light-hearted acoustic feel, and "On Mercury" recalls some of the old-school, beachy sound that dominated much of the Chili's classic Blood Sugar Sex Magik album.

But ultimately, the predominate vibe on By The Way is that of intimacy and warmth, so its fitting that the last track on the album "Venice Queen" effectively captures that spirit.  It's an endearing dedication to a friend of the band's who had recently passed, so it's a touching way to end a very emotionally heartfelt album.

By The Way reflects the sound of a band continuing to grow older and mature as musicians.  That being said, by putting such a strong emphasis on melodicsm, the Chili's also sacrifice some of the excitement, rawness, and energy that made them such a great band in the first place.

Ultimately though, despite the change in sound, By The Way is still a great album, not only because the melodies are legitimately very good, but mainly because of the Chili's ability to create a strong emotional resonance in their songs, which in turn gives the album a uniquely warm, initimate, and endearing vibe.

9.2

Stadium Arcadium

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2006

Double-albums, by their very nature, can be difficult to digest.  They are often times meandering and bloated, usually with a fair amount of filler material to boot.  The reality is that it is quite difficult for any band (with the exception of The Beatles on the White Album) to cram 2 albums worth of material into 1 product, and have each song sound fresh, engaging, and keep the listener's attention over the course of 2 solid hours.

And as good of a band as The Red Hot Chili Peppers are, they too are not immune to the downfalls that accompany their sprawlling double-album Stadium Arcadium.  The record contains 28 songs total, evenly divided between 2 discs, the first being "Jupiter" and the second being "Mars".  Overall, Stadium Arcadium is a very good album, containing some exciting new songs that rank right up there with some of their classics.  That being said, this is a double-album, so for every great song on Stadium Arcadium, there seems to be a mediocre song to cancel it out, diluting the overall impact of the album in the process.  Additionally, the album suffers from a bit of a sequencing flaw, as there is not really a cohesive flow to a lot of the tracks, which makes Stadium Arcadium sound more like a collection of songs thrown together as opposed to a unified, solid album.

But as previously mentioned, Stadium Arcadium boasts some fantastic songs.  The opener "Dani California" is one of the catchiest Chili Peppers songs ever (which is really saying something), and features some lights-out guitar by John Frusciante, who by the way puts on an absolute clinic throughout the entire album.  Frusciante really pulls out all the stops on this album, channeling one of his main influences, Jimi Hendrix, in the process.  No doubt Jimi would be proud of John's blazing solos on this album.  They are really impressive to listen to amidist the all the catchy pop-rock found on Stadium Arcadium.

And it is understandable how you might get distracted by all the catchy songs on Stadium Arcadium and not even realize that Frusciante is putting on a clinic on guitar, as most of the tracks on the album are absolute ear-candy.  Take "Snow (Hey Oh)" for example.  This song has such a sweet melody and an engaging chorus that you might not notice the intricate interplay between Frusciante and Flea, which is really fantastic on this song.  As on more recent albums, the band manages to produce a strong and intense emotional feeling on this track, steadily building throughout the song and ending with a great guitar solo by Frusciante.  Possibly the best song on the album and definitely one of the Chili Pepper's best songs period.

The next track "Charlie" sports a funky, light-hearted vibe with a catchy and endearing chorus.  And once again, Frusciante provides a lights-out solo to close out the song.  Another highlight.  The Chili's also get back in touch with their funk roots on the infectious "Hump de Bump" which features some cool tribal drumming a trumpet provided by Flea.  A very cool, fun song.  "She's Only 18" is another highlight off the Jupiter disc, sporting a very cool, low-key, almost bluesy sound.  "Especially In Michigan" brings the pop-rock goods as well, sounding similar to "Fortune Faded" (a very catchy song from their Greatest Hits album.)

But perhaps the best song on the Jupiter disc is the spare and subdued "Slow Cheetah".  An acoustic ballad, "Slow Cheetah" effectively captures the strong emotional feeling that are apart of so many Chili Pepper classics.  Its got a haunting stillness to it, and a somewhat spiritual quality. This song is under the radar for a lot of folks, but it is an absolute gem and easily one of the best songs on the album, as well as one of the best songs of the band's career.  Who says you can't make catchy songs that are also compelling at the same time?  "Slow Cheetah" is a good example of that.

After a few underwhelming tracks to close out the Jupiter disc, the Mars disc opens up with the weighty and yearning "Desecration Smile".  Then the band kicks up the tempo with "Tell Me Baby" which is a good old-fashioned Chili Peppers funk-rock song, featuring Kiedis's patented rapping and a very catchy chorus to boot.  "21st Century" follows, which is also a very cool song with some funky bass playing from Flea. 

The Chili's then reach back into their "romantic" bag of tricks with the incredibly sweet "She Looks To Me" which is in the same vein as "I Could Die for You" from By The Way.  It's another highlight on the album, accentuating the bands sensual style.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is "Readymade" which features a hard-rocking, almost headbanging groove that is almost impossible not to bob your head to.  It's got a deep, raunchy, powerful groove.  Another great song with a unique style.

"Make You Feel Better" is another quality track, sporting an uplifting and endearing vibe.  The same could also be said for "So Much I" which isn't a standout track, but it certainly isn't filler either.  It's quality.

The band saves perhaps their most interesting songs for the end of the album, starting with the warm and intimate "We Believe", which kind of has a trippy vibe.  "Turn It Again" follows, which features Frusciante's longest, most blazing guitar solo he's ever cut to an album.  It is pretty impressive to listen to and once again shows that Frusciante is one of the best guitar players of his generation.  Lights-out good.

The last song on the album "Death of a Martian" sounds appropriately other-worldly in quality, sporting a spacey, mellow vibe.  Kiedis finishes the song with an epic stream-of-consciousness rap which ends the album on a wickedly righteous note.

So overall, Stadium Arcadium features some of the band's best songs of their career, and the double-album format allows them to explore a lot of different sounds and vibes throughout the album.  On the flipside however, the Chili's kind of sound like they're on cruise-control on Stadium Arcadium, like they're going through the motions.  They're good motions, mind you, but it doesn't sound like they're really pushing themselves into exciting new territory as much as their just doing what they do best at this point in their career: making catchy, endearing, funk-rock songs.

And overall, they can't really be faulted for that.  The band are old pros at this stage of the game, and although listening to Stadium Arcadium straight-through in one sitting can be a somewhat daunting process, the album does have some undeniably great songs, and plenty of good songs too with enough variety to make Stadium Arcadium yet another high-quality Chili Peppers release.

8.9

I'm With You

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2011

Although I really liked Stadium Arcadium, it was hard to deny that the Chili's best days were probably behind them, which is understandable considering their age, etc.  You really got the sense that they were waaay too comfortable making mid-tempo ear-candy for the masses, but at least they had John Frusciante to spice things up right? Not anymore, and the results are fairly predictable on I'm With You.  Comparisons to One Hot Minute abound, given I'm With You's general awkwardness (or should I say underwhelmingness?), but at least OHM had some punch to it occasionally, and at least OHM had some borderline great songs sprinkled in amongst the mediocrity.  I'm With You only has a few good songs, and really, they're just barely good at that.  There are unfortunately no songs here that come close to any of their classics, and the general mood of the album is more subdued than By The Way, but lacking the intimacy and warmth of that album.  The whole subdued/emotional/sad/silky thing sounded fresh back in 2002, and it worked, but now it just sounds tired.  That said, the album is generally pretty listenable, but it's a bit to bland and boring to be honest.  Main saving grace is Flea, as the old man really puts on a clinic on bass.  He can still bring it, but overall this album is a disappointment, but probably slightly more-so than I expected unfortunately.

7.6

The Getaway

Red Hot Chili Peppers

2016

One of the reasons the Chili Peppers have cemented their status as one of the biggest bands on the planet has been their ability to consistently deliver high quality albums which feature undeniably catchy, yet endearing songs that often carry a strong emotional weight and resonance. Yes, there’s usually the occasional filler track or two (or three) on their albums, but the magic of their best songs always steal the show and has helped elevate their music into truly beautiful realms at times.

But ever since the departure of their not-so-secret-weapon John Frusciante, there has been a distinct lack of that aforementioned magic in their sound.  This should come as no surprise for long-time fans of the band, as it’s certainly no coincidence that their best albums (Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication just to name a few) all featured Frusciante on guitar.  Replacing one of the greatest guitarists of their generation was no small order, and the growing pains were quite evident on the predictably underwhelming “I’m With You” released back in 2011.

New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (a collaborator and protégé of Frusciante’s) sounded pretty timid on that album, which is somewhat understandable considering the huge shoes he had to fill.  The rest of the band sounded a bit lost as well as they attempted to gel with their new guitarist, resulting in a pretty uneven and disappointing album, even considering the fact that Frusciante was out of the mix.

But now here we are a full 5 years later, with Klinghoffer haven played countless shows with the band, one would think that would have provided ample time for the Chili’s to redevelop their chemistry and get back to producing high quality albums again. 

Unfortunately, that’s not totally the case on The Getaway.  While the band does seem to have better chemistry and a more well-defined sound this time around, it’s not a particularly compelling one for the most part.  Similar to “I’m With You”, Flea’s bass is again at the forefront of most songs, while Klinghoffer seems slightly more confident this time around, displaying occasionally interesting/satisfying solos here and there.  But, for the most part, Klinghoffer's minimalist approach to his instrument really makes most of these songs sound too sparse and empty.  The band attempts to make up for this with the occasional appearance of hand-claps, piano, or subtle electronic flourishes, but it does very little to inject any real sense of dynamics or spark into the band's sound.

It's not that Klinghoffer doesn’t show up on most of these songs, he’s technically there, but like his persona, he seems perfectly fine with hanging around in the background and avoiding the spotlight, content to let his guitar be as minimal apart of the process as possible.  Granted, Frusciante’s guitar playing was often subtle at times, but his ear for melody and hooks is again sorely missed here at times.

Without this integral melody and energy in the music, Anthony Kiedis seems to be a bit lost as a vocalist occasionally, which makes some of the songs here fall a bit flat as a result (i.e. “The Longest Wave”, “The Hunter”, and “Dream of a Samurai”). Similar to “I’m With You”, Mr. Mustachio is unable to cook up a truly memorable vocal melody on some of these songs.  The notable exception of course is the lead single “Dark Necessities” which legitimately captures the type of unique warmth and intimacy that characterizes most of the Chili’s classic songs (and features Klinghoffer's most memorable/rewarding solo to date).  On a few other tracks, his choruses either just don’t quite work with the music or seem meandering/underwhelming at first, but with repeated listens they can start to grow on you to a degree.  "Encore" is one of those songs, with it's soaring, unabashedly poppy chorus that would otherwise sound a bit too corny if it weren't for the subdued beauty of Klinghoffer's guitar.  "Sick Love" is another tune that fails to impress at first, but it's laid-back vibe and lazily catchy chorus can get stuck in your head rather quickly (and not actually in a bad way).

A few songs on “The Getaway” never quite fully take off or can’t quite stick the landing so to speak (i.e. the choppy "This Ticonderoga"), but fortunately the one consistently good aspect of the music is Flea, who injects some funky, yet generally laid-back, infectious basslines into the mix early and often.  He does this best on the pretty satisfying “We Turn Red” a tune which finds the Chili's clicking on all the proverbial laid-back cylinders, and the band does get into a decent groove in the middle section of the album with the 1-2-3 punch (or should I say “gentle shoves”) of “Go Robot”, “Feasting on the Flowers”, and “Detroit”.  These are good songs to bob your head to, and will probably get you moving on the dance floor, but despite some catchy vocals from Kiedis, there’s no real magic or anything particularly memorable in these tunes (with apologies to the infectiously funky beat on "Go Robot" ).  That’s not to say this album is full of underwhelming songs, it’s just that some of them are generally forgettable and fail to make much of an impression, which is fairly disappointing considering the history of great songs the band usually delivers on their albums.

At this stage of the game, with the majority of the band now in their 50s, it seems like the Chili Peppers are basically not out to impress on “The Getaway”, sounding somewhat tired and unmotivated.  From a practical standpoint, this is understandable: they’re old, ridiculously wealthy, rock-hall-of-famers, etc (hence lack of motivation).  Given that, unless Frusciante magically reappears down the road (he’s done that before mind you) the Chili’s seem destined for more modest albums in the foreseeable future, unlikely to produce anything that rivals their glory days, but perhaps nipping at the heals of the general “goodness” that characterized their 2000s albums (which now seem like a somewhat distant memory). 

Haven said that, upon repeated listens, you do start to garner an appreciation for the broader inconspicuous vibe of the album and its subtly enjoyable appeal.  It’s a chill record that’s not interested in competing with the band’s past greatness, but rather delivering kind of a down-in-the-groove, easy-going, unassuming listening experience.  It can be a somewhat vapid experience at that, but perhaps with a little patience and proper expectations, this album could be a grower.  There are subtle rewarding layers to be found here, which after several listens help bring out a more distinctly satisfying appeal to many of the songs that might otherwise seem too bland upon first glance.  This helps contribute to a surprisingly cohesive and modestly rewarding listening experience, despite the overly sedate and plush vibe found here.  Overall, "The Getaway" is definitely an improvement over the disappointing “I’m With You”, and while it's not quite in the same league as any of their Frusciante albums, it at least deserves to be in the conversation.

8.2

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