FEW people would have predicted that Red Hot Chili Peppers would get to their 10th album.
Between the drugs, the changing guitarists, the drugs, the juvenile attitude, the drugs, the distinctive (and divisive) sound, the drugs, and the seemingly instant success in the '90s, RHCP has made it through terrain that has ended many other bands.
But here we are, 28 years into their career. With their 10th record I'm With You about to drop on August 27, it's fair to say they have been one of the biggest bands of the past couple of decades.
So here's a quick look back at their five best albums - just in case you missed them.
Mother's Milk (1989)
THE California band built up a steady underground following on their home turf of LA before anyone else had really heard of them. They'd released three albums, the last of which - The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987) - had cracked the Billboard 200 and sold about 75,000 copies by 1989. But the rising popularity was curtailed by tragedy when guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988, shocking singer Anthony Kiedis into attending rehab and drummer Jack Irons (who later played with Pearl Jam) to quit the band. But from the heaviest hammer blows comes the sharpest sword - the next record, Mother's Milk, would be their biggest album to date. New 18-year-old guitarist John Frusciante, a Chilis fan and Hendrix-style player, brought a more melodical sense to the band that was the perfect counterpoint to Flea's slappy grooves, while new drummer Chad Smith was a hard-hitting metronome with just the right blend of funk and hard rock. With this line-up locked in, Mother's Milk took the band to number 52 on the charts, gained them radio play, and produced their biggest hits to date. With their Stevie Wonder cover Higher Ground and Kiedis-Frusciante co-write Knock Me Down - the first great Chilis song - RHCP started to draw attention to their increasingly refined combination of funk, punk, rap, metal and rock.
Yep, their first great song. Take a moment to think about what the musical landscape sounded like in 1989 when this came out:
Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
AFTER selling 500,000 copies of Mother's Milk but unhappy with Michael Beinhorn's production on it and their treatment by EMI, the Chilis signed with Warners and began work on what would be their masterpiece with Rick Rubin (best known at that stage for his work with Beastie Boys and Slayer). It would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship - Rubin has done every Chilis album since. Blood Sugar Sex Magik was born out of months of rehearsals, with Rubin's input, that resulted in two albums worth of material by the time they set up in The Mansion, a supposedly haunted Laurel Canyon house that is now owned by Rubin. Over more than a month living and recording at The Mansion, BSSM took shape. It's undoubtedly their best album, ditching the metal tinge of its predecessor and embracing their funky selves along with poppier and smarter arrangements. First single Give It Away showed they were still funky rap-rockers but it was Kiedis' regret-filled ballad to LA, the follow-up single Under The Bridge, that demonstrated real growth and developing maturity. But for every grown-up moment (the beautiful highlight Breaking The Girl, the tender love letter to Sinead O'Connor I Could Have Lied, the socio-political The Power Of Equality) there was a balancing track highlighting that their sex-obsessed good time boy attitude remained (the audacious Suck My Kiss, the slippery Funky Monks, the unneccessary Sir Psycho Sexy). It was all part of the album's appeal and success - it was a party record with just enough brains to know when to step off the gas for a bit. BSSM sold 13 million worldwide and is rightly regarded as one of the best albums of the '90s.
Once again, this was pretty out there back in 1991:
One Hot Minute (1995)
FOLLOWING up a massive hit record is hard to do, especially when a key component of your sound just walked out the door. Frusciante, struggling with the band's rapid ascent, the accompanying fame, depression, paranoia and an increasing heroin addiction, quit during a tour of Japan and the band trawled through a handful of guitarists before settling on Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction. The new-look line-up regrouped in Hawaii to write their next album (having toured for a couple of years solid), wrestling with a changed sound and a relapsed lead singer (Kiedis was back on heroin after five and a half years of sobriety). The resulting record is an interesting, strange and much darker beast, but also an under-rated effort. Navarro's contributions give it both a heavier and more pyschedelic edge, while Flea stepped up to fill-in for the increasingly AWOL Kiedis, with the bassist contributing lyrics (River Phoenix tribute Transcending), vocal melodies (the superb My Friends and Kurt Cobain ode Tearjerker) and even a whole song (the unsophisticated anti-bully piece Pea). Overall, One Hot Minute is messy and noisy, with songs wandering off in odd directions, such as One Big Mob's transition from hard-funk to subdued psych, or Trancending's restrained groove giving way to an anarchic jam. For all its weirdness, it's still a great record that captures the Chilis in unfamiliar territory while yielding some of their best songs, notably My Friends, the old-school Aeroplane, the surreal Warped, the funk-metal Coffee Shop, the steady groover Falling Into Grace and the Down Under-inspired Walkabout.
Here's the clip for the album's best track and one of their finest ballads, My Friends. Well, this is the first clip, which was rejected by their label:
THE poor sales of One Hot Minute and the ongoing drug battles of Kiedis and a relapsed Navarro brought the Chilis to their knees in the late '90s. They played only one gig in '97 and eventually Navarro was fired after the band unsuccessfully attempted to start work on a new album. The saving grace, surprisingly, proved to be Frusciante, who had spent the past five years as a penniless junkie on death's door. After a three-month stint in rehab, Frusciante was approached by Flea and asked to rejoin the band and Frusciante agreed, despite having sold all his guitars to buy drugs and not playing for some time. The resulting album is short on guitar fireworks but sees an improved vocal performance from a freshly sober Kiedis, as well as a set of songs that are more solid, stronger and flowing than One Hot Minute. In fact, Californication is, for the most part, a guitar-pop album. While they had released lighter, less raucous songs in the past, this record leant more heavily on that aspect of their sound than ever before, as evidenced by the likes of Porcelain (their most delicate song to date), Scar Tissue, Otherside, the title track, This Velvet Glove and finger-pickin' closer Road Trippin'. Those songs make up four of the six singles from the album and while there are concessions to their funk-punk origins - I Like Dirt, Right On Time, Around The World, Get On Top - the record is best known for its pop predilections, which helped it match BSSM's sales and rocket them back to the top of the charts.
The effects look a bit dated, but it's a cool clip:
Stadium Arcadium (2006)
FRUSCIANTE'S renewed confidence led to him steering 2002's By The Way - a more melodic and harmonic effort that veered almost entirely away from their funk and rap-rock roots and into more experimental (for the band) pop streams. It sold 13 million copies worldwide and featured five singles. Four years later, the band and Rubin returned to The Mansion to make what was expected to be a simple 12-track record but soon ballooned into a 28-track double-disc monster that drew its inspiration from everything they'd done before. Songs such as Charlie and Hump De Bump hinted at the funky backbone of BSSM but with the melodic touches of By The Way, the title track and Slow Cheetah could have fit on Californication, while the darker She's Only 18 is almost One Hot Minute-worthy. Kiedis sings more than ever, and his sexed-up lyrics have almost entirely been replaced by more mature themes such as marriage, babies and love instead of lust and general horny-ness. As with most double albums, there is filler, but the real highlight here is Frusciante's playing which is back to its former glory, as evidenced by his tasty solo at the tail of lead single Dani California, his manic arpeggios in Snow (Hey Oh), the neat breaks and white-hot solo on Strip My Mind, the many layers of 21st Century, his reverby squall in She Looks To Me, or even just hearing him riffing in unison with Flea in Readymade (which also features a blistering solo). It's a strong if overlong album that plays to their strengths - Flea's surprising bass grooves, Smith's solid backbones, Kiedis' unique vocal approach and Frusciante's stunning guitarwork - and covers a lot of area while still feeling united... a hard task for a double album.
This clip is a great idea and they actually pull it off brilliantly:
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