All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons
By Andrew Daly
With each successive step, the Red Hot Chili Peppers further relegate themselves to a mere parody of a once somewhat exciting band.
It could be said that no band in rock history has been gifted as many talented lead guitarists as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, it must be noted that by that same token, no band in history has managed to squander so much talent with such little regard so consistently.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar odyssey began in 1983 with the arrival of Hillel Slovak, an utterly unique Israeli six-string prodigy who combined speed metal and funk elements in ways previously unseen. Much is made of the Chili Pepper’s supposed innate chemistry, which bred the genesis of funk-bred rap-rock, but upon further inspection, it’s Slovak who is most deserving of the credit.
“A painter, a musician, an intellectual,” said Flea. “Hillel was a hilarious and wild joker and a lover of his friends. He asked me to start playing the bass, changing my life forever, and that’s only one of many ways he influenced my growth and this band.”
In short, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s as they exist today do not manifest as they have without the efforts of Slovak.
With Slovak guiding the ship, the Chili Peppers released three critically acclaimed records, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984), Freaky Styley (1985), and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987), which served as both a showcase for Slovak and a proving ground for his bandmates.
Despite a lack of commercial success, the Chili Peppers were favorites amongst their peers, drawing admiration from George Clinton and Rick Rubin, who helped the band hone their sound in the studio. By the end of the decade, the Chili Peppers finally began to taste sweet commercial success; even though their music was already beginning to grow stale, competitors, mainly Jane’s Addiction, were hot on their trail.
Sadly, for Slovak, life was a party steeped in depression-based duality, which found the talented guitarist heavily addicted to drugs, culminating in a heroin overdose in the summer of 1988, thus ending the band’s initial incarnation.
In the wake of the band’s disillusionment, and after a failed attempt at having former Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight enter the fold, a supposedly sober Anthony Kiedis was introduced to teenage wunderkind John Frusciante. In Frusciante, the band had allegedly found a more “melodic player” but who was actually perpetually suspended in a state of self-animation, only wandering out of his haze for bouts of Hendrix worship, and hefty doses of hard drugs, namely heroin.
Despite Frusciante’s lack of original ideas, his style seemed a good fit for the Chili Peppers. This band never did seem comfortable in its own skin and was more concerned about commercial domination than artistic integrity anyway. With that in mind, the band recorded Mother’s Milk (1989).
While Mother’s Milk may have been the Chili Pepper’s first gold record, in truth, what it also could be viewed as is beginning of the band making horridly mediocre records under the guise of greatness. More perplexing still, was the press heaping its adoration unto a band without a single original thought in their California-bred bodies.
To be fair, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1992) housed some solid tracks, with “Breaking the Girl” and “Soul to Squeeze (an outtake) being the standouts. But at over 72 minutes long, the record began a long-standing trend of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s inability self-edit and being wholeheartedly unable to differentiate between a good and bad track.
This dead and bloated affair is often considered an “all-time great,” but in retrospect, is it? Are “Suck My Kiss” and “Apache Rose Peacock” really the proverbial stuff of greatness?
The best thing that ever happened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers was when John Frusciante, in the throes of heroin addiction, abruptly quit in 1992 after a show in Tokyo, Japan. Oddly enough, Kiedis seemed to insinuate that Frusciante’s chops took a hit when the guitarist attempted to get sober; that is to say, the frontman felt his guitarist played better high:
“I loved the way John was playing when he didn’t have the technical capacity to do everything,” said Kiedis. “He toned down and developed an incredible minimalist style. Every day he came up with something spectacular.”
With Frusciante gone, one of two things could finally happen: either the Red Hot Chili Peppers would mercifully be put to bed, or they’d hire a competent guitarist with something inventive to say.
As history dictates, the latter proved to be accurate. So, at Woodstock ’94, former Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro debuted with the Chili Peppers, giving the band a fighting chance at creative relevancy.
As had been the case since day one, drugs ran rampant through this band, and lead singer Anthony Kiedis made life hard for Navarro, who admittedly had his own issues, was not particularly into funk music, and did not want to play the role of 90s modern-day jam band guitar dude.
Despite the troubles, and slow songwriting process, the Chili Peppers managed to put out 1995’s One Hot Minute, a record that I would argue is the band’s best album, and it’s not even close. Never, not even once, has this band managed to dance on the razor’s edge of metal, psych, and, yes, funk, all while putting forth evocative lyrical content that could make the most stoic of people bristle with shivering pain.
Years of drugs, death, and touring had worn this band down. But with a dynamic, hard-edged player like Navarro, the manifestation of songs like “Aeroplane,” “My Friends,” “Transcending,” and “Warped” showed strength and depth that, sadly, the Chili Peppers would never remotely approach again.
After years of continued drug use, infighting, and an apparent lack of appreciation for his kraft, Dave Navarro headed for the hills, and moved on to do some incredible things, and eventually rejoined Jane’s Addiction, a band that did everything the Red Hot Chili Peppers did, only better.
With nowhere to turn, or perhaps with a complete lack of foresight, the Chili Peppers defaulted to what they knew, and soon, they began their eternal run to redundancy in re-hiring a now sober, and ever-fragile John Frusciante.
For Flea, Smith, and Kiedis, Frusciante-based hero worship seems to run deep, and apparently, the band found themselves unable to write songs without him, as bizarre as that may sound.
“John had been a true anomaly when it came to songwriting,” said Kiedis. “I just figured that was how all guitar players were, that you showed them your lyrics and sang a little bit, and the next thing you knew, you had a song. That didn’t happen right off the bat with Dave.”
In the ensuing years, the foursome went on to admittedly massive commercial success, with Californication (1999), By the Way (2002), and Stadium Arcadium (2006) representing successful, if not bloated affairs, which found the band increasingly arrogant, and self-glamourizing at each and every turn.
Even more shocking was the critical windfall these albums received. With no one able or willing to take the hit and point out that over the span of 3 records, the Red Hot Chili Peppers regurgitated nearly 250 minutes of primarily repugnant music as blatantly ridiculous and completely over the top as that sounds.
Distressing as it is, this completely uninventive, derivative, and utterly dull band bases its entire identity on the idea that fuzzed-out soloing, and off-key vocals laid over funk-rap is entertaining and meaningful.
The truth is far darker than that: this is a tired, sorry grouping of four lost musical souls, all of which have proved time in and time out that they are entirely incapable of formulating a coherent musical sentence without each other.
All of that came crashing down in the wake of the Stadium Arcadium Tour when in 2009, once again, John Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers. At this moment, a light was present at the end of the tunnel for the first time since the Dave Navarro era.
Klinghoffer first entered the picture for the Chili Peppers as a touring member during the Stadium Arcadium era, proving depth and backing vocals for more “complex arrangements.” In the wake of Frusciante’s departure, Klinghoffer was the obvious replacement.
While they probably didn’t know it then, and perhaps they’d never admit it now, Klinghoffer was the best thing that ever could have happened to the perpetually stale outfit, and I’m With You (2011) serves as undeniable proof of that.
If One Hot Minute is the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ finest hour, then I’m With You slots in just behind it at number two.
With tracks like “Brendan’s Death Song,” “Look Around,” and “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” I’m With You became an instant classic defined by Klinghoffer’s more sparse approach that genuinely served the song and allowed true sonic diversity, and textural density to wash over the listener.
Rather than bathe each track in machismo-driven copycat larceny – ala Frusciante – Klinghoffer served the songs in the most sublime way possible, gifting fans a buffet of textures and subdued solos that caress the ears in ways that the tone def Frusciante could never imagine.
Sadly, biased critics and ignorant pop-consuming masses ignored the release and did the same with the divine 2016 follow-up, The Getaway, stifling the most potent lineup the Chili Peppers had sported to date and keeping Klinghoffer from further developing the soundscape.
An Indie Hero Unfairly Jettisoned, and the Return of a False Prophet
If one thing is certain, for all its supposed talent, the Red Hot Chili Peppers truly are a musically ignorant band.
That won’t be a popular opinion, but I’ll stand by it.
In 2019, the trio of Kiedis, Flea, and Smith made the foolish decision to jettison Klinghoffer and lazily roll back into bed with a two-time deserter, John Frusciante. In doing so, they signed their death warrant and officially became the most unoriginal, boring, and self-parodying band of all time.
In the wake of letting Klinghoffer go, the band collectively rolled out this half-baked statement, barely paying homage to the man who had given them a punchers chance for years on end:
“Josh is a beautiful musician who we respect and love. We’ll miss him, but this is in the name of moving forward.”
Initially, Klinghoffer, class act that he is, had the following to say in an interview with Marc Maron on his WTF Podcast:
“It’s absolutely John’s place to be in that band. I’m happy that he’s back with them. They just said, ‘We’ll get right to it. We’ve decided to ask John to come back to the band.’ And I just sat there quiet for a second, and I said, ‘I’m not surprised.’ The only thing I could think to say was, ‘I wish I could have done something with you guys, musically or creatively, that would have made this an absolute impossibility.’”
Later, in an interview with Guitar.com, Klinghoffer further elaborated:
“It’s not like it was a monogamous relationship… Flea and John had been kinda hanging out and playing and stuff. They were fostering that relationship again. And I didn’t know that. It was sort of secret,” Klinghoffer admits. “[But] I couldn’t be more grateful to them for all the experiences I’ve had with them. My only regret is not making more music with them.”
Dead and Bloated
In the early 90s, and yeah, again in the late 90s, this band could get by in doing the same thing repeatedly. However, here we are, it’s 2022, and the Chili Peppers are still, for all intents and purposes, rewriting bastardized versions of “Under the Bridge” and “Dani California.”
I mean, seriously, were you spellbound by Unlimited Love, or were you more intrigued by the idea of Frusciante being back in the band? Once more, when you go see this band live, is there any genuine interest in hearing “Black Summer,” or would you prefer them to get on with “Give it Away” and “Otherside?”
And here we are; apparently, this bunch has managed to record another barnburner, the cheekily titled, Return of the Dream Canteen. I flicked on “Tippa My Tongue” today; you know, the album’s new and supposedly stellar single, and guess what: it sounds like everything they’ve done before.
By the looks of it, Return of the Dream Canteen is more akin to a nightmare.
Yes! There will be lazy, half-spoken vocals. Yes! There will be more shuffle beats and repetitive slap basslines. Yes! Not to worry, the ever-persisting Hendrix worship is still in place because God forbid John Frusciante does anything else with that Stratocaster.
The Truth About the Red Hot Chili Peppers
For 39 years, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have graced stages across the globe, managing to stay alive and at times seemingly relevant through hazes of band-wide heroin addiction and eternal redundancy via music.
Soon, this supposedly “legendary” band will lay its 13th record on us, and still, after all these years, they’ve got nothing new or inventive to say. Even more annoying, these four have managed to find ways to intensify their complacency in increasingly uglier and utterly brainless ways.
A famous Nick Cave quote comes to mind: “I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’ And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
At this stage of the game, the Chili Peppers aren’t even trying to hide their transgressions anymore. No, instead, they’re serving them up on a silver platter, baring their teeth, and grinning back at us. And if you look close enough, you can almost see the maniacal twinkle in their eyes because, once again, they know they’ve got one over on us.
It’s a sad and deafening reality we live where the masses which make up the fabric of the zeitgeist are still gobbling this illicit refuse up, corrosively poisoning their insides with this toxic act’s malignant indecency disguised as “good music.”
Someone somewhere has got to stop the madness.
I pray that Frusciante has another departure in his weary, timid, and talentless bones. More so, I pray that when, not if that happens, the remaining members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers finally lack the strength to pick their sorry selves up off the deck and instead, mercifully, go home.