I read somewhere recently that John Frusciante is giving up making music for public consumption. The dude is a bit hard to follow musically and personally in part because he’s so goddamn mercurial and a good chunk of his solo stuff is on par with Metal Machine Music. Prior to this, the last I heard was he was making electronic music.
It’s a shame because, he was without a doubt the best thing that ever happened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ironically, the very thing that makes him frustrating as a solo artist is the same thing that elevated the Red Hot Chili Peppers from becoming a running joke.
I’ve always thought that 2002’s By the Way never really got its fair share of accolades, because it’s not a traditional RHCP record. Only two of the songs contain their trademark funk-rock, while the rest is sprinkled with elements of psychedelic surf-pop. This can change of sound can be directly attributed to Frusciante and it led to some clashes between him and Flea.
One of the highlights for me is the surf-rock gem, “Minor Thing” that appears near the end of the album. Its layered sound and uptempo (but not aggressive) sound perfectly captures the feeling of a late summer evening on the beach. It’s almost impossible not to feel the warm orange sun descending into the horizon over the ocean as Frusciante’s pretty, yet sparse chords play during the verses. His short solo during the bridge is one last look off into the sky as the last rays of the sun hit the sky. But it’s the concluding riff that truly makes the song special. For the last minute, the entire band locks together letting Frusciante repeat the same riff over and over again as day finally turns into evening.
I recently heard the new Red Hot Chili Peppers single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” and while the song plays to the Chili Pepper’s strengths, overall it was a bit underwhelming. Flea is in full flight with a memorable bass line and new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer offers some tasteful yet intricate guitar lines. Yet, the end result seems more like a Californication-era B-side than a full fledged come-back single. It’s not bad per se, but as a Chili Peppers song it seems lifeless.
I’m not surprised that the song barely stays afloat. Former guitarist John Frusciante who formally announced his departure in 2009 (it’s been reported that he actually left a year earlier) was the creative force behind the band’s most celebrated and loved and albums. Frusciante is a musician’s guitar-hero. He can shred when he wants to – half of Stadium Arcadium is a showcase for him to let loose – but most of the time he is focused on sonic textures and bringing the song to life. His playing on “Scar Tissue” was intricate without being overbearing and bloated. You can hear traces of Jimi Hendrix in his playing just as much as Lou Reed and Johnny Marr.
On Blood Sugar Sex Magik he mixed funky riffs with metallic force on “Give it Away” and “Suck My Kiss”. His “Little Wing” style playing on “Under the Bridge” perfectly matched Anthony Kiedis’ tale of overcoming drug addiction. For Californication his solos were more stylized and controlled while the songs were a perfect hybrid of melodic pop and funk. 2002’s By The Way found Frusciante taking over the controls (to Flea’s chagrin) resulting in one of the best straight-up records of the 2000s. Stadium Arcadium was a mix of every style that Chili Peppers have ever played, but with the exception of a few songs like most double albums, it was too much.
Frusciante’s incarnation of the band reminds of The Who. Both were bands that received a fair amount of critical praise while also being extremely popular with the masses. Both bands had also had an extremely talented group of musicians with a rare chemistry to tackle many different styles.
It was this combination of melodies mixed with a funky energy that made The Chili Peppers one of the most enduring bands of the last few decades. As their peers disappeared from radio or broke up, The Chili Peppers have always managed to have radio hits even as the rock scene was changing around them. As rap-rock exploded in the late 90s, Californication was one of the biggest selling records of 1999-2000. As “post-post grunge” (as I like to refer to it) came into popularity around 2002-2003 as bands like Nickelback, Creed, and Breaking Benjamin took over radio The Chili Peppers still found fans. Frat-boys could jam and lift weights to songs like “Can’t Stop” and “Around the World” as music-snobs embraced the bands’s ability to try something new like the Beach Boy-esque “Tear” from By the Way.
Despite my criticism of “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”, I still hope their upcoming I’m With You album is a success both critically and commercially. Anthony Kiedies and Flea have endured so many different line-ups of the band they started, that it’s hard not to root for them as they enter the era of Chili Peppers 3.0. “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” might be a luke-warm Chili Peppers song, but it’s probably still better than most songs on “active rock” radio.