1999, Music

Californication (1999) by Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Scar Tissue” was everywhere in the summer of 1999. The radio was always on at my work and so the song was always on. I fell in love with a girl at my work who loved “Scar Tissue.” And so I found myself torn between my love for this girl, who would sing along to “Scar Tissue,” and my general antipathy to all (or nearly all) overplayed radio hits. What was I to do?

Sometime later I decided, completely independent from that experience, that I would become a funk fan. I still don’t know why I wanted to become a funk fan, but I did. But I did a terrible job and it took me probably a decade (maybe more!) before I became properly acquainted with actual funk music. But in the meantime I decided that I should listen to and like the Peppers’ early albums. This would help me improve my funk credentials.

But I never did! To this date, the only record of theirs I had heard all the way through before this one was Blood Sugar Sex Magik, because my step dad had the tape. (Now, why my step dad, who does not listen to funk, had a Red Hot Chili Peppers tape is another story, and one too long for this review which has already gone off the rails into nostalgia.) So all I knew was that album and their numerous radio hits.

The first thing I can say for this record is that wow, was it huge. I didn’t remember how huge. But I know at least 5 of these songs without paying any attention to the band and trying my very best not to listen to the radio, outside of work. (I blame Much Music for my familiarity with the hits.)

The second thing I can say is that they write a catchy song. Apparently this is mostly attributable to Frusciante, who had left the band for some time, causing them to lose a lot of melodicism (or regain their aggression, or something). I don’t know this for a fact, of course. I have just read it a bunch.

And they are a pretty great band; whatever you might think about their sound or how it evolved – or devolved, depending upon your point of view – or Kiedis, who seems to do problematic things. (Note: Patton fan here. Very likely for me to take his side in the dispute. But also: don’t date women who are decades younger than you. It’s awful.) They do their thing and they do it well. I am constantly amazed at how good they are at whatever this funk pop hybrid thing is.

I don’t love the record, myself. It is a little too on the poppy side for me. But I can’t deny how much it sounds like an idealized version of the Peppers, and how much it feels like they’re firing on all cylinders, even if it’s a titch too long. It’s just very well done and I have a hard time being critical of it, even though I can’t ever imagine sitting down to listen to it again.


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