Red Hot Songsmiths

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
(Warner Brothers Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

They're more mature and at times more mellow, yet after years of magic and loss, they still have the power to shock with nothing more than a white tube sock.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are back with their second guitarist John Frusciante back in the mix - their first, Hillel Slovak, died in 1987 of a drug overdose, while their last, ex-Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, recently split the band - bringing back some of the blood-sugar-sex-magic of their glory days.
On their latest album Californication the Peppers not only recreate moments of their exuberant funky past but add a more reflective maturity, not only in lyrical content but in melodic songwriting skills. While the thought of the Peppers (a punk / funk / rap / hard-rock foursome out of Hollywood that has been known to perform on stage wearing nothing but one strategically placed white sock) and maturity seem like an oxymoron, they break the rules by adding their old-school funk, thanks to bassist extraordinaire Flea, to songs that all of a sudden have a melodic beauty to them. Yessir, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are back and have become bona fide songsmiths.
While songs such as their first single "Scar Tissue", which is filled with lush harmonies and a tender guitar-line over vocalist Anthony Kiedis' sing-song rapping, "Porcelain", a fragile acoustic number that sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan shoegazing, and the introspective numbers "Otherside" and "Californication" may seem to signal them softening a bit, it doesn't take long to find the Peppers of old.
Flea opens up the album with his finger-lickin'-funk over Kiedis' troglodytic rantings on "Around The World", while the more straight-ahead hard-rock that they explored with Navarro on their last album One Hot Minute is brought back for an encore on "Easily" with Frusciante executing a deliberate rudimentary guitar solo in defiance of Navarro's rock guitar excess. Although their old rap influences may have diminished over the years their love for George Clinton-flavored funk is still happily intact on the jaunting "I Like Dirt", "Purple Stain" and "Get On Top" complete with Kiedis' corny porn lyrics. It's on the song "Emit Remmus" where Frusciante, Kiedis, Flea and drummer Chad Smith meld into one powerful entity, pounding out a song that may define their sound better than any other in their history.
With their chemistry fully intact once again the Red Hot Chili Peppers prove on Californication that you can mature without ever really growing up.

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