It was the era of tapes, canary yellow Walkmans, and the underground rock movement was radiating eastward from Los Angeles. In 1992, the coastal port’s influx of musicians congregated around a post-punk and thrasher underground, where Henry Rollins Band, Black Flag, UFO!, The Vandals, Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, Descendents, X, Jane’s Addiction and The Germs congregated.
This subversive underground found most Billboard hits of the era saccharine and over-produced. It was a transitional time for music. Bloated, porcine arena rock grew obese on the excess of executive boardroom A&R directives whose manufactured bands fell flat, despite large marketing budgets. The crooning Mariah Carey delivered hit after hit with zenith-range notes that conceivably cracked glass. Vanessa Williams’ painful “Save the Best for Last” and Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” Paula Abdul’s “Blowing Kisses in the Wind,” along with, inexplicably, Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” were charting. The theme: narcissistic, indulgent and cavalier — or dejected love songs. Blech.
America was in transition when the Red Hot Chili Peppers arrived to infuse rock with a much-needed change.
Reactionary and caustic was the counterpoint. And Red Hot Chili Peppers were part of this movement, however briefly. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik subverted the manufactured music piggy bank despite it’s major label; they were instead reminiscent of all of the depth and rawness of bands like Black Sabbath. Flea’s spare and funk-inspired bass was driving. The lyrics were subversive and sexual: “Sir Psycho Sexy” found frontman Anthony Kiedis “Deep inside the Garden of Eden/Standing there with my hard-on bleedin’.” How did the boner arrive in the Garden of Eden?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers had arrived to infuse rock with a much-needed change. They perverted the 1950s “sock hop,”playing Seattle’s Memorial Coliseum wearing only socks on their schlongs, hopping about the stage in flashes of tube socks glowing in the dark, white-butt tan lines, embodying unbridled freedom. With the agile bass underpinnings of Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped onto the mass consciousness. And 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik remains a seminal album that has weathered time better than Kiedis’ tribal tattoos. Are Red Hot Chili Peppers still relevant? Are they still subversive?
Red Hot Chili Peppers have endured 34 years of rollicking rock, continuously reinventing their sound — from punk, to funk, to funk metal and rap rock.
Red Hot Chili Peppers started out as a post-punk and funk band with the funk-centric Freaky Styley (produced by George Clinton of Parliament and Funkadelic) after Kiedis, Flea, Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons met at Fairfax High in Hollywood. The original intent of the band was for one show, but EMI came knocking, and offered the unwitting teens a record deal. The bad performed “Blackeyed Blonde” amidst a thrash bash skateboard party scene in 1985’s Thrashin’, with Kiedis’ musical rivaling an epileptic seizure. Soon after, the eponymous debut produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill was released to little fanfare and remained a commercial flop. Uplift Mofo Party Plan and Mother’s Milk landed the Peppers on the map, at least with the KROQ Los Angeles rock scene. The punk-funk of Milk was followed up with the musky funk rock of *Blood Sugar Sex Magik, *whose title track described sexual conquests and Bacchanalian delights.
Red Hot Chili Peppers have endured 34 years of rollicking rock, continuously reinventing their sound — from punk, to funk, to funk metal and rap rock — releasing “Scar Tissue” and “Californication,” owing mostly to the band’s proximity to Hollywood. RHCP’s recent music tended a bit toward manufactured, over-produced, and plastic, which is not to say that isn’t fine rock. But maybe it’s time the band returned to their punk roots. I want to imagine Kiedis once again thrashing about the set of Thrashin’ with his tribal tattoos and wispy hair, before going to skateboard with Tony Alva in an empty pool in Dogtown and watching Pacific Vibrations. These things aren’t plausible, probably, but they’re a fine fantasy of sun-soaked California lore.
The latest Danger Mouse-produced Peppers release, The Getaway, is a solid departure from the funk rap-rock of former days as well as tepid recent albums. Some tracks such as “Dark Necessities” are rip-roaring, surf-riding, bass-infused R&B numbers, while others simply flounder and drown. “Sick Love” is a surprising mess, despite (or because of) the contributions of Elton John and Bernie Taupin — it sounds like a cacophony with too many musicians in the recording studio. Elsewhere, new experimentations with genre and style shine, making The Getaway the launching pad it was intended to be. After three decades of raucous rock and after Blood Sugar Sex Magik upended the porcine manufactured Music Piggy Bank, this is an overall good release — even though it feels like loose change compared to the Peppers’ revolutions of yore.