AOM Logo January 2000

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication

Warner Music USA
Playing Time: 56:24

Christopher Tocher

Back from nowhere are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LA's most tenacious (reunited) foursome. Their latest release, Californication, is a lengthy and exhausting fifteen-track collection of the bad and the ugly in new rock. It is more a post heroin lament than a rock album and a disappointment on many different levels.

It is difficult not to like the Chili Peppers. If there has been a contemporary, hard-edged band that has withstood the perils of the rock n' roll game, it is undoubtedly the Chilis. However, their street edge lifestyle and underground mentality has, in this example, raped the band of all musical inventiveness. As welcoming as it was to see their revival this year - with original band mate John Frusciante on his feet again after cooling his heels in smack rehab - Californication is possibly a personal milestone for the group rather than a tribute to their audience. The musical focus seems to be on more a garage level rather than the confines of a concert stadium. The Peppers' raucous, sultry sound still permeates, but I found most of the fifteen tracks simply dull and forgettable.

Californication finds the band in their most rudimentary form both lyrically and instrumentally. The problems may be symptomatic of the band's reunification, with Anthony Kiedis on vocals, Flea on bass, John Frusciante on guitar and Chad Smith on drums. The only musical reprieve is Porcelain and the off-the-wall Road Trippin' (which features chamber organ underneath the most folked-out lyrics)! Because the band writes, sings and plays without relying on the heavy use of instruments or embellishments, musical inventiveness is replaced by energy. Flea's bass receives a solid workout and saves Anthony's vocal recitations in Get On Top and Right On Time. It also helps Chad's skin bashing on Purple Stain. The noticeable twist is Frusciante's low level but smooth guitar stylings that add a hint of melodrama to the turbulent rhythm section.

If you buy the album expecting to find vintage tunes from the Blood-Sugar-Sex-Magik days, look elsewhere. What you will find is an energetic record with monodies and personal ballads that are devoid of excitement. It is ironic that the release of Californication was so obscure, no major press releases, no hyped-up marketing campaigns and, sadly, no major tour to promote their new release. Could it be the Peppers realized the prognosis?

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