All in all, this is one of the most successful albums the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been able cough up. Rap, rock and just about anything else you can name, they have it on Californication (and they do it wickedly, too).
After a reunion of sorts of the band’s “classic” former members, every bit of energy has been pumped up for this album. Coming back from the dead, guitarist John Frusciante’s power chord genius is solidified on this album, his melancholic, graceful notes and syncopated noises allowing bassist Flea to bounce rambunctiously back and forth.
Singer Anthony Kiedis, on the other hand, has changed his overall tone and adopted a new melodic sensibility, more soulful and often dwelling in a different, lower range. On tracks like “Californication” and “Scar Tissue”, one can truly separate the old and new Kiedis by the way he drives the lyrics.
The band’s familiar old funk-rap style is featured on songs like “Around the World”, “I Like Dirt”, “Get On Top” and “Right on Time”. “Parallel Universe” and “Otherside”, however, show a different approach to metal and rock, plus a little rapping. If it’s gentle guitar strumming you want, you can turn to the gentle, evocative “Road Trippin'” for the final say.
Looking back on the Peppers’ musical lineage, I personally feel that more engaging, evolving albums are on their way from this reformed group — and that they’ll be using Californication as a blueprint of sorts. They are surely not your everyday funk group.
Red Hot Chili Peppers — Californication: Track-by-track review
1. “Around The World”
This was one of the first Chili Peppers songs that really caught my ear. Nobody can deny the great interaction between each band member on this track.
The solidarity of the guitar, bass and drums is almost too good to be true, as is Frusciante’s falsetto in the chorus. The introductory bass attack is very powerful; beware!
The band’s playing is tight, and alternately noisily aggressive and slow and spare, but it is maintains a spirit of fun — the one thing that was largely missing from 1994’s One Hot Minute. Kiedis’ vocals, by the end, devolve into a flurry of nonsense “ching chang ling long ning nang” syllables, which both fit the music and keep the mood poppy and entertaining. It is pure RHCP — taking chances, revelling in goofiness, and producing music that holds up over repeated listenings.
2. “Parallel Universe”
“Parallel Universe” is a “kinda hard to swallow” song if you’re a mere pop fan. Blared with everything they’ve got, this is one of the most metallic funk songs on this album. I’ll give it an 8 out of 10 for aggressiveness.
The mood is more focused, and less goony, than the preceding song. Don’t forget that being silly is only one ingredient in the Chili Peppers’ stew; they have no problem with rolling up their sleeves and giving us real, heartfelt communication.
“Parallel Universe” contains one of the greatest, most soaring and devastating choruses in the entire Chili Peppers cannon. With a poignant yet exhausting melody, Kiedis cries “Christ, I’m a sidewinder, I’m a California king!” as the band pulses underneath with an exhilaration that manages to avoid sloppiness.
3. “Scar Tissue”
The first single from the album, this poppy song was chosen to show the world that yes, Frusiante was back and yes, the band was not resting on its laurels.
Frusciante’s ending guitar solo here has been called one of his greatest solos of all time, with its slow meticulousness making it that much better. Kiedis’s vocals and lyrics are presented with an unheard-of melodic sensibility. It can be draining — no wonder they called it “Scar Tissue”.
Back to guitars again!
Frusciante’s pure, simple playing ability is proven again here, but this song is more abstract than others. Flea and drummer Chad Smith’s great bridge in this song is downright intoxicating, while John lets the distorted harmonics ring. The vocal harmonies during the outro are brilliant.
And managing to rise above even his own band’s instrumental and vocal prowess, Frusciante plays some of the album’s most interesting guitar work on “Otherside’s” bridge.
5. “Get On Top”
Unlike Flea’s loose, grandiose bass-slapping on One Hot Minute or Mother’s Milk, on this record it’s very earthy and tight. The bass-and-guitar driven theme to this song is interesting, and Frusciante’s playing is again very minimalistic. Despite this restraint, “Get On Top” is more of an aggressive, pounding song, thanks in large part to Kiedis’ manic, mile-a-minute vocals.
The arching vocal harmonies in the chorus are executed by the band’s singers very well, and long-time Peppers fans will give Flea a 10 for slapping on this one.
And the title track almost speaks for itself…
The lyrics, guitar and bass are in perfect interaction with one another, like they are conversing in a language of their own. The pre-chorus bass and guitar chords are flashy, but don’t overshadow the clean, carefully-placed notes that are so common a feature of Frusciante’s solos on this album.
Lyrically, the song deals with the glitz, promises, broken dreams, and cruelty of California’s entertainment industry. The Chili Peppers have always been obsessed with the state, but Kiedis isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, which makes his love for the place all the more affecting.
“Easily” is not your everyday rap/rock track. The verses don’t stand out, but the outros do, as they contain at least 4-5 harmonized guitars, which sounds amazing. The guitar breaks between verses show how Frusciante can create a solo based on the vocal motif of the song, but transpose it to a different scale than Kiedis’.
An exceedingly mellow song about a teenage girl’s pregnancy. This is easily Frusciante’s simplest playing in his Peppers career. It’s a very solemn tune, with Chad playing his simplest drums to date, just light brushes and snare.
The tone of the instruments is very reminiscent of early jazz of the 1920’s, but stronger, owing to the sonic requirements of a modern day album, and so the song is almost, but not quite, a jazz tune.
9. “Emit Remmus”
No words can explain this song. You’ll have to listen to it personally to judge it. I think everyone has a different take on this special track.
It comes at you fast, and is something of a rote RHCP-style song. Which is not to say it isn’t good; it’s fun, and it certainly brings the listener up from the quietness of the last song. Well-placed and well-played.
10. “I Like Dirt”
Frusciante uses his left-hand muting syncopation technique for a song not dissimilar to “Emit Remmus”. The guitar solos are done with a very odd sounding distortion on the pedal.
Every album has a few black sheep, and it seems like this is the one here, although the expertly-executed guitar solos are more reminiscent of BloodSugarSexMagik-era Frusciante than many other songs on this album.
11. “This Velvet Glove”
The main guitar/bass motif on “This Velvet Glove” is catchy, as are Kiedis’s decidedly un-melancholic vocals. Chad plays remarkably subtle and appropriate drums here.
After “Californication”, this is another track on which Kiedis shows off his acclaimed “solemn” voice. The sound suffers here though, despite producer Rick Rubin’s usually-steady hand. From start to finish, the whole track sounds like it was recorded at an indoor concert. Better luck next time, guys.
13. “Purple Stain”
This is a mixed track: jazz, rap, reggae, rock; you’ll never quite know what it has in store for you until you get there. The sly, grinning lyrics are quite explicit — if you want them to be.
14. “Right On Time”
The guitar playing is syncopated and the tune is aggressive, but it’s simple nonetheless. Generally, it’s back to the old, funky Peppers style for this one, although the breezy chorus is not dissimilar to others found on this album.
15. “Road Trippin'”
Finally, a song on this intense album that allows you to genuinely relax. The guitar and bass are in a minor key, one that succeeds in evoking a very nice feeling of antiquity. This is most evident in the bridge.
This is something of a musical companion piece to “Porcelain”, although lyrically this is about travelling and spending time with good friends. It sounds like the start of a journey, and as the last track on the album, acts as a gateway for the listener to go do some exploring of his own. All in all, an excellent way to end such an adventurous, careening album.
Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Around The World”
“Get On Top”
“I Like Dirt”
“This Velvet Glove”
“Right On Time”