Whenever I contemplate the career of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — which I’ve done possibly more than Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante or Chad Smith — I find myself stuck on the same unanswerable question: Why them?
Why them and not any of the other bands (Black Flag, X, Fear) that also came out of Southern California in the early ’80s? Why them and not any of the other indie bands (The Replacements, Husker Du, Minutemen) who also became underground stars in the mid-’80s? Why them and not Jane’s Addiction or Fishbone in the late ’80s? Why them and not Soundgarden or Alice In Chains in the early ’90s? Why did all of those other bands either fall apart or fade away while they survived and thrived? The Chili Peppers played at the start of the riots at Woodstock 99 and the press still blamed Limp Bizkit. They lip-synced at the Super Bowl and yet you still hear “Otherside” every other hour on rock radio. Why are they so bulletproof? Why them?
Coming out of L.A. in 1983, the Red Hot Chili Peppers for years did not seem like prime candidates for rock immortality. One member died from drugs, and several others were crippled by long-running addictions. They have been legally charged on multiple occasions for boorish behavior toward women. Also, they are white guys who play funk rock. And yet, here they are, almost 40 years and more than 100 million albums shipped later, as one of the biggest bands in the world.
Seriously now: Why them?
This question is especially pertinent given that a new Chili Peppers record, Unlimited Love, comes out next week. It’s their first with their prodigal guitarist John Frusciante since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, and it sets up a tour of stadiums (arcadiums?) due to start this summer. The list of tour openers speaks to the band’s tenure and cultural reach: The Strokes, Haim, St. Vincent, A$AP Rocky, Thundercat, Beck, Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals, and King Princess.
But do their albums hold up? More important: Are they the greatest bad rock band or the worst great rock band? Let’s investigate.
12. Stadium Arcadium (2006)
Before we get too dappity-doopity-deep into Chilis world, I’ve got two confessions to make: First, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the number one album here. Sorry to “give it away,” to use the parlance of our times, but … was there really any suspense to begin with? If I were ranking the number of ways that water feels, I’d assume that everyone would guess in advance that “wet” was at the top.
The Chili Peppers have never made a perfect record. They’ve never even made a 75-percent great record. Most of their albums — especially post-Blood Sugar — are too long by at least seven or eight songs. At least the peaks on Blood Sugar Sex Magik are higher than normal. And the filler is also better than normal. For the other Chili Peppers records, as we’ll see, the bar is much, much lower.
Second, I was expecting this to be a turkey shoot. I figured I’d crack some jokes about slap bass, quote a lot of self-evidently terrible lyrics about perverted lady cops humping de bump, cite that mean Nick Cave quote that hurt Flea’s feelings and call it a day. But as I delved into Chilis world, I was shocked by how well I still knew a lot of this music. And then I remembered all of the time I spent as a teenager playing basketball in my friends’ driveways while listening to Anthony Kiedis rap-sing about all of the sex he was having and we were not having. And I accepted, reluctantly but not unhappily, that the Chi Peps are a part of me.
Well, actually, this album is not a part of me. The Chili Peppers’ only official double album is punishingly long; it makes Sandinista! feel like a Joyce Manor record. I’m normally a fan of punishingly long albums (including Sandinista!), because they typically balance out the hits with the sort of batshit, anti-commercial experiments that would never be permitted on a concise, 12-song statement. But Stadium Arcadium doesn’t find the Chili Peppers going deep or wide. This album is 28 songs long simply because the Chili Peppers were so absurdly successful as a relentless radio rock juggernaut after 1999’s Californication that nobody was going to tell them to cut the crap for a goddamn minute.
I wonder how different Stadium Arcadium would have been had the band successfully talked David Bowie into producing it. (They also approached him about manning the boards for the previous LP, By The Way.) But whenever I play this scenario out in my mind, it never gets very far because I get immediately hung up on imagining Bowie listening to “Dani California” for the first time. What would the man who wrote “Life On Mars?” think upon hearing Kiedis sing “she’s a runner / rebel, and a stunner / on her merry way saying baby, whatcha gonna?” over a transparent rip-off of the riff from “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”? Would it make him wish he could leave Earth once and for all?
At the very least, Bowie (more than Rick Rubin, apparently) would have had the gravitas and the good sense to apply a chainsaw to the track list. “Snow (Hey Oh)”? Eradicate that insipidness with extreme prejudice. “She’s Only 18”? Chop it and for once save Kiedis from himself. “Hump De Bump”? You guys were in your mid-40s when this album was released! What the hell is wrong with you?
That’s three clunkers just from the first half of the first disc of Stadium Arcadium. I’m convinced not a single person ever has played this album from front-to-back, including the band. There’s no excuse for this album to be as long as it is. It’s not as though these guys have never shown restraint. During the Californication sessions, there was a song called “Fat Dance” that Kiedis loved but the rest of the band vetoed. He was still smarting about it while promoting the album, telling Spin in 1999, “It was funky, it talked about the beauty of ass.”
11. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984)
l love that quote. The form is elegant and the content is stupid. Just like the music of the Chili Peppers.
It was like that from the beginning. It’s kind of shocking to note how far these guys go back. Their self-titled debut came in the same three-month span as Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime, and The Replacements’ Let It Be, and it went on to be the most influential album of the bunch. I know, right? Kinda gross but undeniably true. Pretty much any rock band from the past 40 years who hails from California and performs prurient rap-rock in tank tops owes something to that first record. As Korn’s Fieldy once explained to Chuck Klosterman, “Our musical history starts with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and early Faith No More. As a band, that’s where we begin.” Credit (or blame) where it’s due.
As Kiedis writes in his frankly incredible 2004 memoir Scar Tissue — shoutout to Boy Meets World‘s Rider Strong on the audiobook! — the band wasn’t happy with how this album turned out. Producer Andy Gill — whose band Gang Of Four was the British version of the Chili Peppers, only they were obsessed with socialism and class warfare rather than fornication and California (and Californicating) — tried to get them to buckle down and produce hits. Which, to be fair to the Chilis, makes absolutely no sense. Why would a label sign these back-alley Hollywood street urchins if they were expecting the next Duran Duran?
Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse Anthony and Flea placing a piece of dung in a pizza box and delivering it to Gill in the studio, the most infamous anecdote from these storied, stormy sessions. And I’m inclined to agree with Gill when he described the song “Police Helicopter” — in his written notes that were subsequently spied by Kiedis — as “shite.” But I can’t help but admire the audacity of this record. Was doing a punk-funk cover of Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me” a good idea? No. On future records, however, the Chilis would learn how to pull off their bad ideas more successfully.
10. Unlimited Love (2022)
I didn’t hear the Chili Peppers in 1984. (I was only 6. “Mommy, Where’s Daddy?” was inappropriate for me at that age, or any age.) The Chili Peppers as I came to know them was a different band. Then again, the Chilis have been many different bands, which helps to explain their uncanny ability to transcend so many eras, from funk-rock to alt-rock to rap-rock to (for real) dad rock.
How convoluted is their history? The founding lineup, which includes drummer Jack Irons and guitarist Hillel Slovak, was together for only one album. Naturally, you’d assume it was the debut, but you’d be wrong — it’s the third Chili Peppers record, 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. I could explain this but it would take a tediously long time. (Not as tedious as the second disc of Stadium Arcadium, but still pretty tedious.)
Let’s talk instead about the most famous drummer and guitarist in Chili Peppers’ history, both of whom entered the band with 1989’s Mother’s Milk. Drummer Chad Smith is known for being the “most normal” one in the band — he reminds us of this in every Chili Peppers magazine profile — which explains how he ended up with Sammy Hagar in Chickenfoot. (If you were a 60-year-old drummer you would also want to spend time down at Cabo Wabo.) There’s also the matter of his resemblance to Will Ferrell, which resulted in the most tolerable Tonight Show bit of the last 10 years.
But the more important one here is obviously guitarist John Frusciante. The thinking man’s Chili, Frusciante is the only member with enough self-awareness to be occasionally embarrassed about being in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s quit the band twice — the first time to become a heroin addict for the bulk of the ’90s, and the second time to make obscure electronic records for the bulk of the ’10s. Both choices align with the values and mores of their respective eras.
I wish I could argue that the cult of Frusciante is overblown. He does seem to cultivate his reputation as a weirdo genius a little too perfectly. When he returned to the RHCP fold for the first time with Californication, he said things like, “I think the rock star, his role in society, is a very beautiful thing and the best kind of a thing for a child to experience.” Which I guess sounds better than, “I recognize that this band is a cash cow, especially when they’re playing the minor-key variations on Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ that I can originate endlessly out of thin air.”
Frusciante exited again after Stadium Arcadium, due in part to his interest in the occult. “The occult tends to magnify whatever you are,” he recently explained, “and I was an imbalanced mess.” I’ll take his word for it on that count.
But I can’t authentically front about being a Frusciante skeptic. When I heard he was back, I found myself caring about Unlimited Love way more than was logical. Having heard the album ahead of its release next week, allow me to blow your mind: It’s way too long! It has 17 songs when it only deserves (trust me I’m being generous here) to have 9. The first single, “Black Summer” — the one where Kiedis explicitly sings like a pirate — is mild Chili indeed but it’s honestly one of the strongest songs on the record. The second single, the lightly funky nostalgia exercise “Poster Child,” has Kiedis rhyming “Robert Plant” with “Record Plant.” (I guess that’s technically two different phrases?) Elsewhere, there are a lot of mid-tempo numbers that attempt to emulate “Scar Tissue,” and one bonafide piano ballad called “Not The One.” I’m serious — this is their River Of Dreams.
That said, there are also some ripping Frusciante guitar solos and I’m tempted to road trip to one of the stadium shows this summer in the hopes that they’ll play “I Could Have Lied.”
9. I’m With You (2011)
Hillel Slovak had to die tragically of a heroin overdose in 1988 to clear the way for Frusciante’s initial foray into the band. Ahead of his return for Unlimited Love, Josh Klinghoffer was shanked in the back by his one-time bandmates, prompting the most excruciating musician interview in recent memory.
“If this had happened five years ago, it would have probably destroyed me,” he moaned to Rolling Stone in 2020 about his firing. “Because it would have confirmed all my worst intuitions about how much I suck and how worthless I am as a person.” It actually gets more heartbreaking from there! Klinghoffer explained that they were in the middle of writing a new album when he got the ax. He had already seen photos of Flea and Frusciante hanging out at a basketball game, but he never suspected that the Sword of Damocles was dangling above his neck.
It’s possible to be excited about Frusciante returning to the Chili Peppers while also feeling really bad for Klinghoffer. At least it’s possible for me to hold these seemingly opposing thoughts in my head simultaneously. Klinghoffer was a placeholder who knew he was a placeholder and was forced to deal with that psychological rattlesnake hissing non-stop in the back of his mind for a decade until the very thing that confirmed his deepest insecurities lashed out and poisoned him to death. It’s sad as hell. (Silver lining: He landed a job as a touring guitarist for Pearl Jam, which suggests that tenured alt-rockers have a top-notch pension plan.)
My sympathy for Klinghoffer made me determined not to rank his albums last. Though I also think they’re slightly better than advertised. He’s certainly not, by any means, the worst part of those records. Even if his playing ultimately seems nondescript, it’s not as though he’s detracting from “The Ballad Of Rain Dance Maggie,” which is a song you write when the culture responds to an abomination like “Dani California” by streaming it nearly half a billion times. I can’t say anything about that track that can’t be better expressed by the GIF of Jesse Pinkman screaming, “He can’t keep getting away with it!”
8. The Getaway (2016)
I’ll go as far to say that the second and final Klinghoffer era album is the most underrated Chili Peppers LP. It’s the only one since Blood Sugar that they made without Rick Rubin, the unofficial “fifth member” whose relatively tight quality control early on gave way to the excesses of Stadium Arcadium and I’m With You. Though Klinghoffer later said they only moved off Rubin because he was uncomfortable with working for a producer whose long history with the band effectively froze out their new guitarist. Instead of working with the Chili Peppers in the mid-2010s, Rubin instead served as executive producer of the 2016 electronic album Star Wars Headspace, which included tracks by artists such as Flying Lotus and Rökysopp incorporating sound effects from the films. (So his lax quality control also extends beyond the Chili Peppers.)
For The Getaway the Chili Peppers hired another superstar producer, Danger Mouse, who began his career by deconstructing classic rock on The Grey Album and reassembling it with a hip-hop sensibility. By 2016, however, he was the millennial Don Was, with a track record of overseeing the least interesting albums by long-running alt-rock and indie bands.
The Getaway certainly has a lot of those trappings. Befitting their Carpool Karaoke era, the album cover — in which a little girl strolls down a graffiti-strewn street with a grizzly bear and a raccoon — seems downright wholesome. As for the music, it’s the Chili Peppers at their least punky and funky. On “The Longest Wave,” they sound surprisingly similar to Oasis. The mellow disco-rocker “Go Robot” could be a Spoon track. The album overall has the feel of a late-period U2 album. Which doesn’t sound like a compliment, though I am genuinely impressed that they could make a record this unhorny. In that respect, The Getaway is genuinely subversive, a Chili Peppers record without a cucumber in its trousers.
7. By The Way (2002)
The only Chili Peppers album I wish I liked more than I did. It’s the one that Frusciante truthers like to push as their closet masterpiece, because John took the most control. Which is to say, the focus is on melody and there’s virtually no funk influence. (Though, tellingly, the album’s funkiest track, “Can’t Stop,” is by far its most-streamed song.) By The Way for certain has the widest variety of keyboard sounds on any Chilis record. There are psychedelic strings sections and jangly guitars. One of the best tunes, “Universally Speaking,” sounds like XTC. “On Mercury” hits like a mix of Tex-Mex and ska. “Warm Tape” could’ve been on Hail To The Thief. In other words: It’s barely a Chili Peppers record.
All of this sounds wonderful on paper. I like and admire Frusciante, and the idea of him hijacking this band and making his own Pet Sounds is enormously appealing. But that’s the thing: As much as I like parts of By The Way, it works better on paper than as a record.
It took me a while to understand why By The Way hasn’t connected with me, but I think I get it now: It’s too smart. Much of the Chili Peppers catalog is too dumb, but this album goes too far the other way. It needs more songs where Kiedis talks about the beauty of ass. That’s the essence of this band. You need a proper balance of genius and stupid for their music to take flight. This is the duality of the Chili Peppers.
Also: Flea resented how Frusciante locked him out of the creative process. “John went to this whole level of artistry,” he said in retrospect. “But he made me feel like I had nothing to offer, like I knew shit.” Treating Flea like he’s Mike Love is bad form, so I had to dock this record one slot.
Please enjoy Anthony Kiedis shooting himself in the foot in the classic 1991 film Point Break.
6. Californication (1999)
A defining radio rock album of its era, this is the Hotel California of the ’90s, the one where the Chilis inform those of us outside of L.A. — via the title track, a broified redux of The Day Of The Locust — that space is the final frontier but it’s made in a Hollywood basement. Whoa, Anthony. It’s also a sister record to Dr. Dre’s 2001, another classic about Californication that exploited the nostalgia that people in 1999 suddenly felt for the biggest L.A. acts of the early ’90s. In the video for “Scar Tissue,” we see the older but not necessarily wiser Chilis riding together in a convertible, which rhymes with seeing Dre and Snoop Dogg riding together in a convertible in the “Still D.R.E.” video. All these guys checked out any time they liked in the middle of the decade, but by ’99 they showed us they could never leave.
It’s also a defining radio rock record of the late ’90s because it sounds like shit. A victim of the so-called Loudness Wars wreaked on blockbuster releases in the late ’90s and aughts, Californication was mixed to send any car stereo deep into the red, which supposedly was a good thing if you want your song to pop on radio in 1999. But it makes the CD unlistenable. Not to get all Steve Hoffman Forums here, but this is the rare album that sounds better on a streaming platform than on disc, though a vinyl remaster in the early 2010s apparently improved upon the original mix’s “rusty shovel scraping amplified gravel” sound.
It’s actually a shame because based on the music this deserves to be in the top three. The achievement of Californication is that the Chili Peppers deftly navigated an era that all but destroyed most of their alt-rock peers from the ’80s and early ’90s, remaking them as soul-patch balladeers who could also deliver churlish red meat to the nu-metal community while keeping those bands at arm’s length. If any record deserves credit for sustaining their career past the ’90s it’s this one. It turned them into the Rolling Stones of the backward-hat generation.
5. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)
The most incredible aspect of the Chili Peppers’ longevity — aside from their ability to survive insane drug abuse, changing music trends, and the passage of time — is the fact that they’ve never been canceled. Videos like this are very easy to find!
All I can figure is that the Chili Peppers slide on this stuff — check out Scar Tissue for more sordid details — due to their aforementioned duality. They are meatheads, yes, but they can also be chill hippie mensches. They are intelligent morons, violent pacifists, enlightened rogues. And that stems from the marriage at their core. Kiedis is the devil — he has the body of Iggy Pop and the mind of a Labrador Retriever in heat. And this other guy seems like a sensitive angel … who happens to be totally in love with the devil.
Kiedis wrote a book about doing a lot of drugs and screwing a lot of women. Flea wrote his book, Acid For The Children, about how much he adores Anthony Kiedis. That, in a nutshell, is the Chili Peppers duality.
Flea is rightfully celebrated for his fluid, wiry, trebly tone, which functions as both a bass and a rhythm guitar in the Chili Peppers sound. On the most forward-thinking track from this record, the psych-pop confection “Behind The Sun,” he provides the infectious bounce and a great deal of melody, pointing toward the conscious pop moves that would eventually make his band stupidly rich. Producer Michael Beinhorn also teases out their metal side, which really blossomed on the next record, Mother’s Milk (also produced by Beinhorn), and eased them into the burgeoning grunge era of the early ’90s.
Flea almost always sounds good whenever he plugs in. I totally get why Thom Yorke wanted to form a band with him. But this album also includes “Party On Your Pussy,” which has aged as well as you might expect a song called “Party On Your Pussy” to age. I docked this record one spot strictly because it’s the “Party On Your Pussy” album. (The sub-mental cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” doesn’t help, either.)
4. Freaky Styley (1985)
Before Frusciante joined, Flea was unquestionably the most talented instrumentalist in the band. He may still be, though the Chili Peppers didn’t start having hits until they largely abandoned funk. Despite their “Funky Monks” reputation, this band’s relationship with funk was always fraught. In the ’80s, they were widely presumed to be a lesser version of their one-time tourmate, Fishbone, a talented and versatile group that didn’t have the benefit of being stocked with shirtless Caucasians with unusually strong constitutions. In the ’90s and beyond, they tended to bury the funk stuff in the deep cuts and front-load melodic power ballads for the radio, selling their music on the backs of mournful morality tales about the downside of shooting speedballs in the City of Angels.
Few things seem as unseemly in 2022 as an all-white funk band made up of old Gen-Xers. But in 1985, they did work with Dr. Funkenstein himself, George Clinton, who apparently thought the Chili Peppers had the right stuff to play this music, so who are we to argue?
Then again, maybe George just wanted to snort a metric ton of blow with some young party animals from L.A. out at his house in suburban Detroit. Kiedis’ depiction of the Freaky Styley sessions in Scar Tissue makes it clear that the album existing at all is a minor miracle, given all the self-abuse happening in the studio. Clinton seemed particularly poised, no matter the loads of white powder accelerating his heart rate. He even offered to help Kiedis learn how to sing before performing the Sly Stone classic, “If You Want Me To Stay,” which is far better than it has any right to be.
The album overall gets a lot of mileage out of vibe. After the conflicted, sterile debut, Freaky Styley really does sound like a party, due in no small part to Clinton’s ability to orchestrate controlled chaos. But the Chili Peppers pull off the funk due to their sheer guilelessness. Flea and soon-to-be-departed drummer Cliff Martinez play one of the band’s best grooves of this era on the title track, while Kiedis masters his “David Lee Roth Does James Brown” goofball act.
3. One Hot Minute (1995)
The controversial Dave Navarro era. I was excited to hear this album in 1995, and I’m weirdly excited to hear it in 2022. It’s their Goats Head Soup, the hangover from the high of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It’s also their Presence because Navarro plays like Jimmy Page all over the record. More than anything, it’s the Chili Peppers’ version of a Jane’s Addiction record, though it doesn’t seem like they set out to do that. Navarro just willed them in that direction for one album, and then he was jettisoned from the band once the other guys realized they’d been hoodwinked.
Hiring Navarro in retrospect seems like a decision that was doomed to fail, akin to inserting Russell Westbrook into the Los Angeles Lakers. Like Westbrook, Navarro is a shooter — he can’t not overplay his ass off, and he can’t not dominate the proceedings. In Jane’s Addiction, he was the most gifted hard-rock guitar player of the alternative scene. He was also allergic to playing funk licks, which automatically makes him an unintentionally hilarious choice for the Chili Peppers.
Navarro nevertheless tried to dabble in wah-wah riffs on songs like “Aeroplane” and “Walkabout,” but it comes out sounding like the funk tracks on House Of The Holy. Otherwise, Navarro shreds on this album. On the album opener “Warped,” he tries to cram every cool riff from Ritual de lo Habitual into one song. On “One Big Mob,” he replicates the middle section of “Three Days.” The closer “Transcending” is a genuinely disturbing descent into junkie hell, peaking with some “Dazed And Confused”-style bombast. The one attempt at a radio hit, “My Friends,” has had zero legs as a radio standard, which is a shame, because whenever I hear Everlast’s “What It’s Like” for the one billionth time, I always hope that it’s the winsome acoustic Chili Peppers song instead. But it never is.
The worst that can be said of One Hot Minute (if you happen to like Chili Peppers records) is that it doesn’t really sound like a Chili Peppers record. It probably should have been presented as a new band or a side project. Though I would argue that any Chili Peppers record released in 1995 was bound to take a commercial hit, given how alt-rock at that time was trending downward anyway. One Hot Minute therefore functioned as a palate cleanser, setting the Chilis up for the triumphant return of Frusciante four years later. But aside from the utility of this record, I like One Hot Minute and I’m glad it exists. And if you don’t like Chili Peppers records generally, there’s a decent chance you’ll like this one.
2. Mother’s Milk (1989)
The peak of the early mook years. My love of Mother’s Milk is not something I can explain or justify, as it’s a record that’s inseparable from my own personal experience. Even now, I can remember the first time I saw the album cover — it was on a T-shirt that this kid was wearing in my seventh grade homeroom class. It was 1990, but even back then it wasn’t exactly acceptable for a 13-year-old to wear clothes depicting a topless woman with strategically placed Chili Peppers hiding her nipples. This kid was bold. And my mind was forever corrupted.
My first contact with the Chili Peppers, courtesy of this album, implanted the subliminal idea in my head that this was music for grown-up party animals. The kind of people who wear Hawaiian shirts and drink entire cans of beer in one gulp. And since I aspired in the seventh grade to be a grown-up party animal, Mother’s Milk become a sacred text. It made me want to be a less-than-better man.
Truth be told, I don’t think that subliminal idea has fully exited my head all of these years later. Blasting this album for the first time in years (decades?) instantly put a smile on my face. Am I saying that “Good Time Boys” is my equivalent of a Proustian Madeleine? Goddamn it, I think I am. Even the songs that should make me cringe hit squarely upon my pleasure centers. (I’ll spare you my critical justification for enjoying the song “Stone Cold Bush.”)
Frusciante hated the metallic sheen that producer Michael Beinhorn put on his riffs, and Kiedis was also dismissive in retrospect, calling the album “decent.” But the post-Appetite For Destruction crunch of the music really works well all these years later. (This is easily the hardest rocking Chilis.) Really, pretty much everything on this album works. (Even “Magic Johnson” — yeah, I said it!) It’s the one Chili Peppers record that isn’t too long. Even the throwaway tracks bore fruit, most notoriously “Pretty Little Ditty,” a clearinghouse for leftover Frusciante riffs that was later sampled for the irresistible dumb-dude classic, “Butterfly” by CrazyTown. Somebody stop me before I defend CrazyTown!
1. Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Like death for all of us, this is the natural endpoint for any Chili Peppers list. I’ve talked a lot about duality on this journey, and so it applies to this landmark of sexy, druggy alt-rock that instructed millions of sober virgins locked in suburban wood-paneled rec rooms on the ways to be a shirtless free spirit in the great big world that awaited them beyond high school. You can make fun of the Chili Peppers — they provide ample ammunition, though the haters should recognize that the Chili are often in on the joke. But truly understanding this band requires accepting a reality in which a song called “Suck My Kiss” can slap, even if you don’t want to admit it.
Come on, you have to be a pretty insufferable snob to not acknowledge the moments of genuine beauty and power here: the strings on “Breaking The Girl,” the way Frusciante revs into his final solo on “I Could Have Lied,” Chad Smith’s drumming on “Give It Away,” Flea’s bass playing at the end of “Under The Bridge.” They were trying to make an album as deep and epic as a Hendrix or Zeppelin record, which must have seemed laughable tin 1991 but here we are and … I think they got pretty damn close!
Oh yeah, says a hypothetical Chilis skeptic. What about “Sir Psycho Sexy”? Oh yeah, that song. You can’t really talk about Blood Sugar Sex Magik without addressing the “horn dog fantasy about having sex with a female police officer” elephant in the room. My only defense of “Sir Psycho Sexy” is that I heard this album when I was 14, and it seems like an album that is best appreciated with a 14-year-old’s mindset.
Actually, here’s one more defense of “Sir Psycho Sexy” — the coda. It’s gorgeous. It might be the most purely pretty music of their career. That they would tack it on at the end of their raunchiest song once again typifies their duality. Are they the greatest bad rock band or the worst great rock band? The answer is “uh huh.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.
Whenever I contemplate the career of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — which I’ve done possibly more than Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante or Chad Smith — I find myself stuck on the same unanswerable question: Why them?