Wednesday, June 23, 2010

399 Californication- gentrified funk punk.

Album: Californication.

Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Year: 1999.

Genre: Rock


  1. Around the World
  2. Parallel Universe
  3. Scar Tissue
  4. Otherside
  5. Get on Top
  6. Californication
  7. Easily
  8. Porcelain
  9. Emit Remmus
  10. I Like Dirt
  11. This Velvet Glove
  12. Savior
  13. Purple Stain
  14. Right on Time
  15. Road Trippin'

I remember having an argument back in 1989. I’m not the sort of person who memorizes every disagreement and has a catalogue of disputes in my head but this one sticks in the mind because I referred to it again frequently throughout the 90’s. This particular debate involved music and my antagonists were two dedicated fans of Motley Crue. Anyone out there remember the Crue? Lately they appear to be more of a tabloid event than a musical act but for a while they released albums and there were even those that took them seriously. The two people I was arguing with took them very seriously indeed and regarded them as the greatest musical act in the world at the time. The Crue had just released Doctor Feelgood (their biggest album and before you ask- no, it isn’t on this list) and the Crue-hoos I was arguing with were adamant that it was the best collection of notes ever committed to vinyl, tape or any other medium. Also released in that year was Mothers Milk by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and while it wasn’t generating much impact in the music press in Australia (it only peaked at number 52 in the US album charts) at the time I was a big fan and made the mistake of trying to tell the two Cruedle-doos I was chatting with that I thought it was a better album than Dr Feelgood. Their reaction was so extreme it was like I’d told them they looked silly in their acid wash and bandanas or I’d cast aspersions on the attractiveness of their mullets. They retaliated by making fun of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ name and in retrospect who could blame them? I claimed Motley Crue were a thing of the past and a relic of the 80’s. I declared the Peppers to be the future of good music.

For a few years I was correct. Sadly now… not so much.

Mother’s Milk was a great album full of fantastic music that was unlike anything else at the time. It was funk it was punk and it rocked in a way that nothing else did before and sadly the Red Hot Chilli Peppers never have again. They toured Australia soon afterwards and put on a great live show. I got my hands on their earlier albums and even declared them my favourite band at one point. While Mother’s Milk got them a bit of attention throughout the world the next album made them the headlining act they are today. Blood Sugar Sex Magic features some of the grunt that made me love Mother’s Milk but sadly featured Under the Bridge, a huge selling ballad which brought them mainstream success but fans of Mothers Milk viewed with suspicion at best and derision at worst.

To me the entire of Californication sounds like an attempt to appeal to their Under the Bridge fans. The funk is gone and with it the fire. While you would struggle to find an appropriate label for Mothers Milk you can call Californication pop. It’s wearing rock clothes but it’s a bland set of pop songs.

For me the balance of Californication is way off. The funk and groove of their earlier work has been toned down while the embarrassingly naff lyrics have been ramped up further. Anthony Keidis has always attempted to marry his spiritual leanings with his rampant sex drive and consequently writes cringingly bad lyrics that suggest he’d like to sexually use every woman in the room but he’d still respect them in the morning. This is the man who gave us the refrain: “I’d like to party on your pussy” earlier in his career but now prefers to drop gems like this from Around the world:

Go-rilla cunt-illa/Sammy D and Salmonella/Come with me 'cause I'm an ass killer/You're ill but I'm iller”

That’s vintage Keidis right there, sexual boasting mixed with pointless rhyming. For more fun why not check out Purple Stain:

“To finger paint is not a sin/I put my middle finger in/Your monthly blood is what I win/I'm in your house now let me spin”


And it's not just lyrically annoying, Easily plods along like something in a no hurry with nowhere to go. Just as it reaches the point where it needs something to lift if out of the slump it’s quietly dying in Frusciante breaks out easily the worst guitar solo I’ve heard since All You Need Is Love. It’s oddly lifeless and the sort of thing that a teenager could happily crank out after five minutes practice.

Californication just makes me sad. It's the sound of a great band gone truly sour. I would never have said this a few years back but to my mind there is just as much chance of Motley Crue releasing a new album of great songs as The Peppers.

Highlight: The coda to Purple stain but by the time you reach it the lyrics have put you off.

Lowlight: The words, oh lord the words.

Influenced by: Punk bands, drugs and ego.
Influenced: No idea but I've got no desire to hear them.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I am firmly convinced that if all students from the first grade (even kindergarten) through their last year in college were exposed to simple ear training exercises that allowed them the opportunity to identify what they were hearing on the radio, TV, CDs, jazz, opera, orchestra, chorus, band, etc..our music scene in general would be much different! If simple ear training exercises, coupled with simple music theory, were carried out in public school, the public would demand music of much higher calibre than they are presently consuming. Why would they demand better music? Because they would HEAR that the music they are being fed is too repititious, trite, banal to warrant our attention, much less our money on the sales of records or concert attendance. The average person today doesn't want to think about music, they just want to enjoy it. They usually will settle for the same thing day after day. They feel life is too difficult to have to think about the music they are listening to. Hence the gap between the performer and the listener in the world today."

-Interesting idea. Although if the average person just wants to enjoy music what's the problem?

So do you think Californication is an improvement on Mother's Milk or a big step down? Or don't you care either way? Let me know below.


  1. David,
    I went off the Pepper's after BSSM. I just wanted to say that I am still enjoying your posts and the inclusion of the favourite Amazon review is proving to be a streak of genius.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Hey, it's musick4all here. Thought I'd post because this happens to be one of my favorite albums. I think there are two types of music listeners: lyric-focused and sound-focused. While I'd agree the lyrical content leaves something to be desired, the overall sound of the album is deserving of top-tier status. When it comes to BSSM I would say it's marginally better than Californication, but for me it's a close call. I think Scar Tissue is just a great song, as well as This Velvet Glove and Road Trippin', which is too good to be ignored. I respect your opinion completely though.

  3. Thanks for the comment Musick4all. BSSM is coming up in the countdown so I'll be reviewing that later on. Can I recommend regular readers check out music4all's blog

    He's worth a bookmark.