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Red Hot Chili Peppers – One Hot Minute

Red Hot Chili Peppers – One Hot Minute (1995)

When I squint my eyes and peer into the recesses of my memory, the first thing I can remember of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is the music video for "Aeroplane". I must've seen it at a friend's house because I didn't have cable TV at home. I remember someone explaining that the choir at the end of the song was the class of one of the bandmember's kids singing and how once the band had performed wearing nothing but socks on their penises. They were rockers alright, lofty and divorced from humanity, made all the more so by the perceived reality of a ten-year-old watching MTV, and by the actual reality of the music industry dynamics of 1995. You were a star or you were nothing. Red Hot Chili Peppers were stars.

The first album of theirs I owned was Californication which I'm pretty sure I bought largely to serve as a conversation piece among my middle-school peers. I don't think I actually liked the album that much. The title track in particular declined in my favor as it became incessantly overplayed everywhere in the late 90s. Nevertheless, something drove me to continue buying their albums, and by mid-high school I'd added By the Way and One Hot Minute to my collection. Curiously, I can't remember precisely when I acquired Blood Sugar Sex Magik, whether it was before, between or after the aforementioned two. That its memory is fuzzier may be no coincidence. I was a mild-mannered kid and I've grown into a mild-mannered adult; BSSM was frankly just way too full of sex and testosterone to resonate. I was drawn more naturally to the contemplative pop of By the Way and the moody, heavy distance of One Hot Minute. The latter in particular became a key staple in the soundtrack of early independent driving after getting my license.

I don't think I was fully aware at the time of the album's historical context and implications. That "moody, heavy distance" was the result of several notable factors during its conception and recording: Lead singer and lyricist Anthony Kiedis had rebounded with substance use after several years of sobriety, and the band was still trying to find its groove following the departure of guitarist John Frusciante. To replace that void they'd enlisted Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction, whose tattooed, shirtless aesthetic belied the bumpy musical chemistry between him and the rest of the band. The guitars on One Hot Minute have a decidedly more hard-rock, "15 year-old discovering wah pedal" vibe than their prior funkier sound. Fans' disappointment at the time is understandable. Critical response was tepid.

That's the "glass half empty" perspective. Viewed differently – and, particularly, viewed now, with the benefit of hindsight ("we know the Chilis gon' be aight") and our knowledge of the material they've been putting out for the last 15 years – the album earmarks an interesting point in their history and, context aside, perhaps contains music objectively worth listening to. Within the first four tracks we're treated to two catchy hits ("Aeroplane" and "My Friends") and two pummeling assaults of distortion-forward rock ("Warped" and "Deep Kick") which capture the contemporary existential torments of the band in earnest. The album reaches its high point, however, with the trio of "Walkabout", "Tearjerker" and the title track. "Walkabout" is one of my permanent go-to summertime jams – lyrically, undeniably a bit cheesy, but who's looking for thought provocation when it's 90 out (and, if your car is anything like mine was in high school, the A/C is broken)? "Tearjerker" is an exercise in the band's more soft-spoken, introspective side first explored in "Under the Bridge". And fittingly so – it's a tribute to Kurt Cobain. "One Hot Minute" is probably the best sampling of the band's new, harder sound that characterizes the album, even if at six and a half minutes it drags on a bit longer than it should. The album closes with "Transcending", an involved tempo-changer blending hard-edged guitar psychedelia with a more moderate sound that portends their poppier material to come.

It's a little bit funny to look back on the Chili Peppers' 90s – in a decade they helped so much to shape, they released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, this album, and Californication. By the time the third rolled around their imprint on that decade had already been effectively cemented. That leaves the former two, of which One Hot Minute would seem to be a clear outlier in their career and, as some would say, a "dud". Maybe everyone just loves a good story: after the album, Frusciante came back, Navarro got the boot, and the band began to settle into something resembling stability. I think there's some great music to be found on this album, regardless what stadiums of millennials singing along to "Dani California" might say. I recommend it be played with the windows rolled down.

davidcolucci.com  >  An album a day in May