11/ 1995 SPIN



Platter Du Jour – Red Hot Chili Peppers – One Hot Minute

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS One Hot Minute Warner Bros. 7


They may cover the Stooges, and their bassist may have played in Fear, but any mallrat with half a brain can tell you that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are not punk. They’re too comfortable with their bodies, they’re too hippie-ishly Fruitopian, and, most important, they inverted the basic paradigm of punk-rock pedagogy: Write songs and then learn how to play. These guys did it the other way around.

So instead of either hailing or reviling their mid-’80s brainstorm to be, as Flea said, “punk about the funk,” let’s just abandon that ill-fitting catchphrase altogether. Rick James was punk about the funk. George Clinton was punk about the funk. Even the early Beastie Boys were punk, or at least drunk, about the funk. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers-rubber-faced white boys biting black-music mojo, tattooed frat boys spouting pre-feminist sex vibes-were funky about L.A. hair-metal. And that just may be their salvation.

As Lollapalooza’s designated Van Halen, the Chili Peppers played flashy licks, dropped trou, and jumped about. It wasn’t until BloodSugarSexMagic, when Anthony Kiedis pulled off the unlikely coup of “Under the Bridge,” that they seemed more a band than a talent-show act. Under the firm hand of star-molder Rick Rubin, their buffed form of phallo-philic groove-rock finally jelled- as on that album’s undeniable “Give It Away”-and, much like their shirtless friends in Soundgarden, the Chili Peppers managed to replace sonic novelty with actual songs.

One Hot Minute finds them venturing further down pop’s path, sculpting their hyperactive musicianship into denser, more pointed soundscapes-the kind of alternately loopy and ferocious din that will make a welcome island between the Stone Temple Pilots and the Spin Doctors. Ex-Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro brings new color and substance to the production, devising dreamy, expansive atmospheres where his predecessor, Hendrix acolyte John Frusciante, might have dropped more generic chicken-scratch or distortion pedal. The opener, “Warped,” is a typhoonish onslaught a la Hendrix’s “Roomful of Mirrors.” “Aeroplane” is a tightly wound, syncopated funk groove-with Chic guitar and Cameo bass-that opens up into an airy, blissful space jam on the chorus. In fact, much of Minute evokes the hallucinogenic space-jam side of the Peppers’ secret L.A. role models, the Doors.

Fans of the Peppers’ hooliganish mix of Larry Graham bass slapping and black fraternity chants will not be disappointed. “Coffee Shop” resurrects the distortion-and-meat funk of Uplift Mofo Party Plan-the Peppers’ most sonically convincing album-and it has the chorus “Meet me at the coffee shop / We can dance like Iggy Pop” which beats the hell out of “Catholic schoolgirls rule.” Never ones to shy away from audio corniness, the Chili Peppers do include some ridiculously literal sonic references. “Walkabout”-a Robert Bly-ish rumination on getting back to nature, dancing with wolves, etc.-uses an aboriginal talking drum thing, while “Falling Into Grace” culminates its love-as-religion jam with gongs and a nagayana Buddhist chant. (Hey, why not ooga-booga backing vocals for a song about Africa?) But for the most part, the trippy, mind-expanding sonic ambitions of Minute pay off.

Perhaps his work with pipes ranging from Johnny Cash’s to Mick Jagger’s has also prepped Rubin for the rather herculean task of making the Peppers’ longhaired “rapper” a viable pop singer, someone who can sit comfortably on the dial next to Michael Stipe and Bono. Astute strategies prop up Kiedis’s sketchy pitch and faux-soul croon-static overlays, vogueish compressed vocals, letting Flea sing lead now and then just to make Kiedis sound better-but his presence seems to have evolved as well. His doe-eyed, head-swaying balladeering always struck me as anything but honest, as much a cartoon of vulnerability as his dick-swinging caricatured masculinity. Now, somehow, he’s managed to make this insincerity seem, well, nice. The self-effacingly generic title of “Tear Jerker” may be a wry comment on its obvious role as the sequel to “Under the Bridge.” Nonetheless, it’s a pretty, cello-kissed ballad of heartbreak that evolves with sitars and strings into a stately kind of elegy, like a “No Woman, No Cry” for skate-punks. Considering the mosh-heads who comprised much of Kiedis and company’s pre-“Bridge” constituency, any kind of emotional frankness, real or projected, is a good sign.

Since the Chili Peppers’ macho form of body worship always strode a fine line between homoeroticism and queer-baiting, it’s also swell to hear the long-overdue homophobe dis on the jokey “Pea.” But even better would be to hear the song “Stretch,” which, though on the advance tape of the album-and a logical extension of the “Warped” video, where Kiedis welcomes a mascaraed Navarro into the fold with a kiss-will not be making it to your local Kmart. “Stretching out your tightness, time to open up your hole,” sings Kiedis, “I have always wanted to give something to my brother.” Flea’s old employer, the queer-bashing Fear singer Lee Ving, probably wouldn’t dig that tune too much, which is all the better. Imagine these reconstructed yahoos secreting a little bona fide transgression into their post-breakthrough record. Who knows? They just might have been punk after all.



Thanks to Anton for help with this!

Leave a Reply