Week 2 in the dorms. I’ve survived this long. And I’ve only gone home like what? Four times? …I just want my bed back. I know I’m late yet again, but let’s face it. The dorms don’t exactly channel creativity. Luckily, I have yet another 90s one to keep me comfort.
Album: Californication Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
So, lets start by clarifying: It’s Californication, a combination of (obviously) California and fornication. Not Californiacation. That’s like my biggest pet peeve.
This album was made by the ever so famous Peppers lineup of of course Anthony Kiedis, Flea (I don’t actually know his real name of the top of my head, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that), John Frusciante, and of course, Chad Smith. To me, this is the golden age of RHCP. Now, this particular band has suffered quite a few changes in lineup, so lets talk about it because it’s a little important (and this is going to be so abbreviated it’s not even funny).
The Peppers originally started with Kiedis, Flea, Hillel Slovak, and Jack Irons. Eventually, Slovak overdosed, and Irons left the band because of it. Long story short, they changed it up with quite a few people, Irons came back and left, etc… Finally, they ended up with the ever-so-sacred lineup mentioned above, but there was a problem. Frusciante did NOT handle the fame well and left the band after a few albums. Thus, the Peppers ended up with Dave Navarro. Fun fact for my brother-in-law Sam, Buckethead actually attended an open audition for the Peppers during this time (if you are not my brother-in-law Same and you don’t know who Buckethead is, google him or something). But cutting to the chase, Navarro didn’t really get the feel of the Peppers, Flea thought about quitting the band, and they brought back Frusciante.
And Californication was born.
Released in June of 1999, Californication was the Peppers’ seventh studio album and it was produced by Rick Rubin. I love that guy. He’s seriously worked with everyone from Tom Petty to Jay-Z to Aerosmith to Eminem to Johnny Cash and I think you get the idea. But — back on track now — Californication marked a serious change in sound for the Peppers. They managed to incorporate their classic funk/rock style with some renewed vocals from Kiedis and added a lot of depth. I’ll come straight out and say it, I credit most of this change to Frusciante’s return, as I do believe most do.
After rejoining the band, Frusciante approached his music differently I think. From what I know about the Peppers, I can confidently say he’s got the most musical knowledge and I think this album (and subsequent albums) really demonstrate what he contributes to the overall RHCP sound. He’s the kind of player that can tone it down, rip out a solo, or just go with the funk, and man does he know how to use a power chord. Not to mention, Flea works best with Frusciante. And that brings me to Flea himself.
Flea is an amazing bass player. It always makes me really mad when people trash Flea. First of all, he’s been a Pepper since the beginning, and even though he’s the jam-it-out type rather than the technical music theory guy, he’s got talent. I think it can honestly be argued that half of RHCP’s sound comes straight from Flea, and (not that I know him personally or anything) he seems like the kind of musician that always wants to become a better musician.
So I guess what I’m getting at is this: between Flea’s bass jams and Frusciante’s straight up talent, Californication could be good without Kiedis. But Kiedis is the only other Pepper that’s always been a Pepper, so we can’t just skip over him. Well, that and he write the lyrics.
A lot of people trash Kiedis too. That also peeves me, and here’s why. In the 90s, you didn’t necessarily have to have the best voice out there to make it — and yet that’s why people trash him. Like take Cobain for an example. I love me some Kurt Cobain as much as the next person (don’t even get me started on Nirvana), but he wasn’t Adele. And that’s the charm.
I think everyone can appreciate the improved vocals on Californication, though. And not only did he improve his vocals, he managed to churn out some really good lyrics in the meantime. The lyrical content ranges from the typical lust and California to topics a little more taboo like addiction and death. One of the more notable singles from the album, “Scar Tissue” is a perfect example as Kiedis croons lines like “scar tissue that I wish you saw/sarcastic mister know it all” and “with birds I’ll share this lonely view.”
But the (then) newfound lyrical goodness doesn’t stop there. The track “Easily,” features some excellent lyrics, if you ask me. There’s a kind of drama with lines like “the story of a woman on the morning of a war/remind me if you will exactly what we’re fighting for,” and “throw me to the wolves because there’s order in the pack/throw me to the sky because I know I’m coming back.” And the utter simplicity of the track “Porcelain” serves to remind you that even the funkiest rock bands can produce something simple and beautiful. Of course, tracks like “Get On Top” and “I Like Dirt” are reminiscent of that ever so funky rock n’ roll sound.
To be honest, I have a lot more to say about Californication, but I’ll stop here. This album marked the beginning of an era for the Peppers and it just added to the excitement of the late 90s. It’s got singles even some of my friends would remember (sorry guys, had to) and it does a pretty good job of showcasing everything RHCP really can offer. To those of you out there who don’t like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, all I can say is you really need to give them another shot. It’s not all about the frontman. It’s not all about the bassist. It’s not all about the guitarist. It’s not all about the drummer. It’s about the incredibly unique sound the Peppers make when they come together. There’s a reason it made Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (coming in at 399).
As always, requests are appreciated, and I swear that I will get to them eventually. As always, keep listening.
Honorable Song Mentions: Parallez Universe, Easily, Porcelain, Right On Time, Road Trippin’
Singles you might recognize from the 90s: Scar Tissue, Otherside, Californication
Also: quick add in. Check out @OlderBrotherSam’s website! He’s got an album listening club. It’s like book club. But better.