Friday, August 02, 2002



by Wayne Robins

Speaking of bands that have survived, unexpectedly, to flourish after 20 years, I've got a question: When did the Red Hot Chili Peppers get so good? Sure, I got some kicks out "Freaky Deakey," the 1985 P-Funk gang bang. But I was too old (like about 30 something) to dig the socks-on-the-Johnson shtick that seemed to be the way they addressed their fans, their career and the world.

They've had more personnel changes than Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac, and Spinal Tap combined. And the combination of muscle beach bodies, too many tattoos, drug overdoses and the whole nihilistic California life style they appeared to represent made the Chili Peppers seem to me like skateboard kings who never grew up.

So By the Way: Why is their latest CD, "By the Way," so good? The title song utilizes all the RHCP tools I'm familiar with: the power rock ballad that goes into railroad hyperspace with a hip-hop tip. It may just be about a band and a girl, but there's no condescending ego: it has the mood of a sincere apology.

Midtempo ballads predominate: "Midnight" has an intriguing chorus: "Everyone knows anything goes/We are the Lotus kids/Better take note of this." I hear it as an ode to computer geek dedication and ingenuity, but I'm probably not just off the wall but over the fence on this. "Throw Away Your Television" is a fine social critique that media intellectuals like Mark Crispin Miller would appreciate. "Reinvent your intuition now": That's a slogan I can live with.

But the big deal here is "Minor Thing," a major song of great power and beauty. It may be the best single track they've ever cut. Not that I've heard them all, or really want to. I've been completely satisfied being on the periphery of Chili Peppers culture most of these years. But "Minor Thing" is one great song.

(c) copyright 2002 Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Connect:

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