Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Red Hot Chili Peppers


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.


© 2018 The Z-Spot. All Rights Reserved.