As a fresh faced 12 year-old, I remember the joy I felt hearing the news that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were rolling into town. Not only that, but they were to play Portman Road (Ipswich Town’s football stadium). This was to be by far, the biggest gig I had ever attended.
As a budding rock music fan, the Chili Peppers were everything I wanted in a band. They had a rich back catalogue to explore, were exceptionally talented musicians and their lyrics told of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles that I couldn’t quite comprehend yet. But most of all, they were cool.
But ten years have passed since that sunny day in Suffolk. I’ve grown to love different music. And the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s have somewhat faded into obscurity. So, when did the Chilli Peppers go from under the bridge to under the radar?
Since they formed in 1983, they’ve won 7 Grammy awards and sold over 80million albums. They’ve been inducted into the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame and are undeniably, one of the most successful rock acts of all time. No mean feats for a band whose style is so diverse and eclectic. For 30 years they’ve been just about the only band worth acknowledging in the somewhat defunct sub-genre of funk-rock.
Through their first three albums, they built a die hard following and a reputation for their jamming, free form live show (perhaps more present in smaller venues than in football stadiums). 1989’s ‘Mother’s Milk’ brought them to the attention of the majors, and a deal with Warner Bros soon followed. Founders Anthony Keidis and Flea (no one ever says his real name) brought in new members Chad Smith and John Frusciante, and the Chili’s legendary line-up was born. They were fast becoming the hottest property in rock. Rick Rubin was drafted in to produce their major label debut “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”. The crowning achievement in a career full of accolades: the perfect blend of pop sensibilities, funkadelic basslines and punk riffing. It spawned two of the most iconic singles of the Nineties; the sexually explicit bass romp ‘Give It Away‘, and the heartfelt ballad documenting heroin addiction ‘Under the Bridge‘. The album has sold over 15million copies.
Like so many of their contemporaries they struggled with their newfound status as rock gods. Frusciante left the band. Then came the long and fruitless struggles to replace him.
It wasn’t until Frusciante returned, and 1999’s ‘Californication‘, that the band got their mojo back. The album took the band in a more melodic, straight rock direction. Gaining them droves of new fans in the process. By the time they released ‘By the Way‘ in 2002, it seemed the band could do no wrong. They were unashamedly the biggest band in the world. The obligatory Greatest Hits album soon followed.
Surely the idea to create a double disc CD in 2006 and capture the band at the height of their power was a golden one. Stadium Arcadium produced some of the Chili’s most successful singles and won five Grammys. But as I got older, Arcadiums subtle pop-rock tones didn’t appeal to me anymore. They’d all but lost their brash, outlandish style; their rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and all hints of funk seemed dead and buried.
Perhaps it’s the effects of youthful rebellion wearing off as a band reaches middle age. Or maybe the band members’ newfound peace within themselves made for more comfortable musical careers. There’s no doubt the Chili’s are exceptional musicians (Flea being almost universally known as one of the best bass players of all time). But they’d gone too far towards feeding the fat cat majority at the record labels. They certainly weren’t cool any longer.
If I could go back in time to 2003, I’d tell my younger self not to waste his time with the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s – they’ll only let you down.
Written by Robbie Bryson