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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Cream of The Crate: Album Review # 169 – Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication

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cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
Album Cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

“White boys do not have to be funky; they only have to rock, and that the Red Hot Chili Peppers do quite wickedly, thank you." - (Greg Tate - Rolling Stone July 1999) .. .. .. "The album that confirmed them as world class." - (Dennis O'Dell BBC Music Review 2009) .. .. .. "The album delights as it brought together the best elements of the earlier albums and moved us forward to a new direction with the band." - (This review)

This is album retro-review number 169 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.

For this retro-review I make a rare visit into the 1990’s, in fact the very late 1990’s.

I say rare because once music had been redirected as a result of the advent of “do-it-yourself” synthesiser based music in the 1980’s, from my perspective it also represented the demise of guitar based bands to a large extend.

So I have dipped into my collection and pulled out a group that “kept the faith” while keeping with the times.

I am talking about the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the CD album I’m featuring is titled – Californication.

Released by Warner Brothers in 1999, it has the identifying code of 9 47386-2. The album has fifteen tracks.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
CD Label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The CD has an accompanying booklet and the cover of the booklet forms the cover for the CD.

It has eight double sided pages which includes four double page black and white pics of the four members of the Chili Peppers. The rest is taken up with the lyrics to the songs and basic credits.

There is no attempt to provide any background to the group or the development of the CD.

It’s OK but on my scale of 1 – 10, it only rates at about 7. It is easy to read, after all white print on black is about as good as it gets, and the four pictures are interesting, but on balance it is pretty uninspiring.

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
[CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
[CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
[CLICK to enlarge]

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, sometimes called simply The Chili Peppers or even further truncated to The Chili’s, began as a group in 1983 as a result of the fallout from the LA Punk Scene.

Consisting of singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist Hillel Slovak, and drummer Jack Irons, they formed Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem before changing their name to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

They became a popular attraction up and down the L.A. strip, though the early lineup was short-lived as Irons and the Israeli-born Slovak departed to form the group What Is This? Kiedis and Flea recruited guitarist Jack Sherman and drummer Cliff Martinez prior to releasing their eponymous debut in 1984.

With their album Stiffed, Slovak returned and the band took to the road, sometimes appearing onstage wearing only strategically placed tube socks.

Over the years and throughout the production of six albums prior to Californication the groups line-up had periods of stability and periods of flux.

By the time Californication came to be, the lineup consisted of John Frusciante who replaced the outgoing Dave Navarro on lead guitar. In my mind that is one reason that makes this particular album stand out.

Now it is Flea who is in my mind the “glue” that keeps the group together as he leaps and jumps around like a man possessed. Throughout all the Chili’s albums dhe puts out bass lines that really makes him one of the great electric rock bass guitarists of all time.

Anthony Kiedis provides a return to his best and his vocals are simply outstanding. Still sitting in on drums was Chad Smith.

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
Rear booklet plate

 

With six studio albums prior, and three post Californication, the group was very prolific. When we include the two live albums, then their output was great indeed.

However with less funk-rap than on previous albums there is still sufficient on this album to keep us in touch with the best of their past, while moving forward.

The return of Frusciante who was very keen to return to the group albeit with concerns over his lack of playing, and the redevelopment of Kiedis’ voice after rehab where his voice had more soul, extended range and more purposefulness in his singing, the album was destined to be a ripper.

In addition the further development of their material resulting in some absolutely memorable songs, along with some typical Chili’s energy – brings forth one amazing album.

Track Listing:

1. Around the World 3:58
2. Parallel Universe 4:30
3. Scar Tissue 3:35
4. Otherside 4:15
5. Get on Top 3:18
6. Californication 5:21
7. Easily 3:51
8. Porcelain 2:43
9. Emit Remmus 4:00
10. I Like Dirt 2:37
11. This Velvet Glove 3:45
12. Savior 4:52
13. Purple Stain 4:13
14. Right on Time 1:52
15. Road Trippin’ 3:25

 

Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Anthony Kiedis – lead vocals
  • Flea * – bass, backing vocals
  • John Frusciante – lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboard
  • Chad Smith – drums
Additional musicians
  • Greg Kurstin – keyboards
  • Patrick Warren – Chamberlin organ on “Road Trippin’*

* Real name, Michael Balzary

Track 1 is Around the World.

This is a track that kicks off with some ferocious guitar work. In my mind this is a declaration that the group mean to play more guitar based tracks and maybe move away from their rap based material.

This is a damn fine track and helps us recall the best of their previous and successful style!

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
Anthony Kiedis – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The track which is written by Anthony Kiedis, is purported to tell the story of the band and its global travels and their love of what they observed.

John Frusciante wrote the basic arrangement with Flea adding the bass parts even as Frusciante was playing his outline for the track on solo guitar for the group.

I particularly like the changes of pace and energy throughout the track, the way it mutates from the “rap” mode to the gentle “rock mode” and back and forth.

One thing about the “Chili’s” and their music, it is never static and it is a very strong piece of music to open the album with.

The track was released as a single and reached number 7 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks list of releases.

All around the world
We could make time
Rompin’ and a stompin’
‘Cause I’m in my prime

Born in the north
And sworn to entertain ya
‘Cause I’m down for
The state of Pennsylvania

I try not to whine
But I must warn ya
‘Bout the motherfuckin’ girls
From California

Alabama baby
Said hallelujah
Good god girl
I wish I knew ya

I know I know for sure
That life is beautiful around the world
I know I know it’s you
You say hello and then I say I do

Come back baby
‘Cause I’d like to say
I’ve been around the world
Back from Bombay

Fox hole love
Pie in your face
Living in and out
Of a big fat suitcase

Bonafide ride
Step aside my Johnson
Yes I could
In the woods of Wisconsin

Wake up the cake
It’s a lake she’s kissin’ me
As they do when
When they do in Sicily

I know I know for sure
That life is beautiful around the world
I know I know it’s you
You say hello and then I say I do

Where you want to go
Who you want to be
What you want to do
Just come with me

I saw God
And I saw the fountains
You and me girl
Sittin’ in the Swiss mountains

Me Oh My O
Me and Guy O
Freer than a bird
‘Cause we’re rockin’ Ohio

Around the world
I feel dutiful
Take a wife
‘Cause life is beautiful

I know I know for sure
Ding, dang, dong, dong, deng, deng, dong, dong, ding, dang.
I know I know it’s you
Ding, dang, dong, dong, deng, deng, dong, dong, ding, dang.

Mother Russia do not suffer
I know you’re bold enough
I’ve been around the world
And I have seen your love
I know I know it’s you

You say hello then I say I do

Around The World


Track 2 – is the track Parallel Universe.

What a ferocious and powerful opening with Flea hammering out the bass line. A full on power track it was released as a radio single to promote the album.

One of the interesting things about it is the dominance of the bass is the fact that Flea has moved away from the funk-rap feel to a more straight rock feel.

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
Flea – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Highly energised by the playing of Kiedis, it utterly rocks along with a beautiful “distorted” middle eight instrumental break!

The lyrics and story could have come from the 1984 book Neuromancer– it is full of “Quantum Mechanics” references, “Deep inside of a parallel universe, it’s getting harder and harder to tell what came first” and further, “Staring straight up into the sky Oh my my a solar system that fits In your eye – Microcosm”

Now QM is the study of the sub-atomic – the very small. Of course some would say it refers to hallucinogens such as LSD where perceptions can appear to make everything very small. The wonderful thing about great lyrics is that it allow us all to put in our own interpretations – but one thing is for sure, it is a great track.

Parallel Universe

I had to stop at Track 4Otherside.

Why do some tracks click with us and why do some tracks really click with us?

Well thats a discourse for another time and place but this track really clicks with me. It starts with a beautifully and simply constructed bass and guitar line that leads the lyrics in.

Another track that moves away from the funk-rap style, it’s a mid-tempo rock ballad. The lyric delivery is really beautiful and it demonstrates something that some people don’t realise – Frusciante has a wonderful voice.

It is also a great example of the wonderful harmonies the group can produce with Flea and Kiedis doing a great job. Yet the song has a sad element to it as it refers to an ex-band member, Hillel Slovak who was the original guitarist for the group, and the lyrics refer to the struggles he had with his addiction.

Yet we find Frusciante is singing it in the first person as he represents himself as Slovak.

The track was highly successful as a single peaking at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, in fact it ended up being the fourth highest ever for the band.

It also reached number one on the US Modern Rock Tracks, which was, at the time, the fifth for the band. The song remained at number one on this chart for 13 consecutive weeks, one of the longest runs at the top of that chart.

[Chorus:]
How long how long will I slide
Separate my side I don’t
I don’t believe it’s bad
Slit my throat
It’s all I ever

I heard your voice through a photograph
I thought it up it brought up the past
Once you know you can never go back
I’ve got to take it on the otherside

Centuries are what it meant to me
A cemetery where I marry the sea
Stranger things could never change my mind
I’ve got to take it on the otherside
Take it on the otherside
Take it on
Take it on

[Chorus]

Pour my life into a paper cup
The ashtray’s full and I’m spillin’ my guts
She wants to know am I still a slut
I’ve got to take it on the otherside

Scarlet starlet and she’s in my bed
A candidate for my soul mate bled
Push the trigger and pull the thread
I’ve got to take it on the otherside
Take it on the otherside
Take it on
Take it on

[Chorus]

Turn me on take me for a hard ride
Burn me out leave me on the otherside
I yell and tell it that
It’s not my friend
I tear it down I tear it down
And then it’s born again

[Chorus]

How long I don’t believe it’s bad
Slit my throat
It’s all I ever

Otherside

In our journey through this album we reach track 6 – the track that carries the same name as the album – Californication.

It is one of those pieces of music that is hard to shake out of your head, snatches of lyrics come to your lips, and the melody line remains engraved in your mind.

There is no disguising the theme throughout this great piece of music. It is fairly and squarely focussed upon Hollywood – often called the “Dream Factory”, yet the dreams that are manufactured can be dark and can certainly be very seedy.

Many critics claim John Frusciante’s guitar playing was better both before and after this album.

Personally I think that is rubbish.

Certainly he was first to admit he was rusty, but his playing in so many tracks on this album is really, really good and sometimes, such as in this track, it is brilliant!

The story goes that Kiedis wrote it in response to the bands observations of life around them when they lived in Los Angeles. The story further goes that the group couldn’t come up with the right melody of the lyrics and in frustration the piece was going to be dropped.

But Kiedis challenged Frusciante to go away and come back with something – and did he ever!

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
John Frusciante – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

It is sublime at times and has a totally different feel to any other track on this album.

In his autobiography Kiedis wrote of the music, “We’d been working for a few weeks when someone started playing an ultra-sparse riff that sounded like nothing we’d ever done before. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was our new song.

That someone was Frusciante who simply came back to a rehearsal where the band was trying one final time, but instead of announcing he had the riff, he quietly just played it.

The result was a track that charted brilliantly and Flea is reported as saying,”Californication is the best record the Chili Peppers have ever made.”

I’m not about to argue with him!

Californication

Two tracks further on is Porcelain.

Porcelain is a track with a difference! Starting off with a heavily processed kick drum it is in fact very much a gentle ballad – a love song in fact.

Once again it demonstrates not just a gentle touch by the group, but an ability to provide great harmonies by Flea and Frusciante which support Kiedis gentle lead vocals.

I have to say as much as I like this track, I find the processing of what is probably a cymbal a little distracting.

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
Chad Smith – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Talking of this track, Kiedis says, “I had met a young mother at a meeting. She was living in a YWCA with her baby girl, trying to get sober but failing miserably. The beauty and sadness and tragedy and glory, all wrapped into one, of this mother/daughter relationship was evoked by the vibe of that music.”

It is worth mentioning that during the time of this track being written, Kiedis was having an affair with a New York fashion designer, Yohanna Logan.

He was quite smitten with her and so it’s obvious he was “open” to writing such a gentle ballad. I have included it in this review because it is such a good “foil” to the more powerful and uptempo tracks that the band is better known for.

Porcelain

Now there are some damn fine tracks between Porcelain and the final track, but I cannot finish this retro-review without mentioning what i believe is the crowning track on this album.

In fact it is quite possibly one of their best tracks ever recorded. 

Track 15 is Road Trippin’.

Just as Around The World was a truly great track to start the album, this is a genius track to finish the album. In many ways it sums up the album, and I guess the experiences of being on the road as one of the worlds most popular bands.

It is the only track that “sounds” orchestrated and the guitar work both by Frusciante and Flea are entirely acoustic and, there is no drum work at all.

It is moving, beautiful, delicate and delightful. Written by Kiedis it tells the story of the trip that he, Frusciante and Flea made driving up the Pacific Coast road from LA to the Big Sur to do some surfing.

It is easy to think the song is called “A Mirror In The Sun”, as the phrase is repeated on a number of occasions, yet the true title, Road Trippin’ is only mentioned once.

The apparent, yet actually absent orchestration, is produced by what is called a Chamberlin Organ, which was a precursor to the modern sampler/keyboard.

In essence each key triggered a pre-recorded tape of an instrument and Greg Kurstin does an amazing job playing it.

It is said that the journey the three members of the band made together was instrumental in reforming and rekindling the former friendship, and went a long way to creating the harmony within the group.

Trippin’ with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It’s time to leave this town
It’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost
Anywhere in the U.S.A
Let’s go get lost
Let’s go get lost

Blue you sit so pretty
West of the one
Sparkles light with yellow icing – Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun

These smiling eyes are just a mirror for

So much as come before those battle lost and won
This life is shining more forever in the sun
Now let us check our heads
And let us check the surf
Staying high and dry’s
More trouble than it’s worth
In the sun

Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun

These smiling eyes are just a mirror for

In Big Sur we take some time to linger on
We three hunky dory’s got our snakefinger on
Now let us drink the stars
It’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost
Right here in the U.S.A
Let’s go get lost
Let’s go get lost

Blue you sit so pretty
West of the one
Sparkle light with yellow icing – Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun
Just a mirror for the sun

These smiling eyes are just a mirror for
These smiling eyes are just a mirror for
Your smiling eyes are just a mirror for

Road Trippin’

This is a very good album.

I have to come clean and admit I didn’t “discover” the Red Hot Chili Peppers until just after this album was released in 1999, and my introduction was courtesy of one of my sons.

The album delights as it brought together the best elements of the earlier albums and moved us forward to a new direction with the band.

cream of the crate: album review # 169 – red hot chili peppers: californication
Recording Californication – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

By 2008 after some 8 years of non-stop touring, recording and gigging with this lineup, the band took an extended break and Frusciante once again left the group for a second time.

In 2010 with Josh Klinghoffer on guitar, the group made a successful comeback and are playing and still recording today, with the other three members from this album still providing the backbone to one of the most successful groups to have traversed the 20th to the 21st century.

Their list of awards and accomplishments is so very impressive and far to long to print here – but if you want to check it out for yourself, just click the link – Red Hot Chili Pepper Awards & Nominations

There are ten studio albums to choose from, and most Chili Pepper fans will have their favourite.

This one is mine.

If you don’t have a RHCP album in your collection, then this album Californication is a great one to have – although you might want to consider the 2011 compilation release – Road Trippin’ Through Time.


VIDEOS:

There is understandably a good selection of live performances of music from this album on Youtube, so the first three are tracks I didn’t discuss, and then two of the tracks that I feel are among the best on the album.

 

Get On Top

 

I Like Dirt

 

Purple Stain

 

Around The World (with extended opening bass solo)

 

Road Trippin’ (Official video)

Rob Greaves
I have been with the Toorak Times since April 2012. I work as Senior Editor of the Toorak Times, but I also think of myself as senior contributor. I've been in the Australian music scene as a musician since 1964, and have worked in radio and TV and newspapers (when they were paper ), serious experience in audio editing, and a lot of video editing experience. Currently I'm working as a radio program producer for a national interview program as well as my work with the Toorak Times