Fucken’ A! Everything One Hot Minute aspired to be (a worthy follow-up to Blood Sugar Sex Magik) and much, much more. Even though it contains a few less-than-great songs and runs on for a bit too long, Californication easily overshadows all of the band’s earlier work, which is kinda ironic as it’s stylistically the furthest removed from the outrageous funk-rock of before. Ok, there IS still some of that hyper-kinetic funk scattered throughout the album, but this time around, the band has focused on songs and – especially – melody, coming up with several memorable songs that are the best they ever did. If Blood Sugar Sex Magik witnessed the boys finally growing up, and One Hot Minute was a dreary stagnation (regression, actually), the boys have their shit completely together on this album, performing well-written songs with commanding style and class. However, despite the strong songwriting and overall musicianship, it’s my conviction this is ‘the Frusciante album’. Although he’s much less all-over-the-place than he was on Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and by consequence also less concerned with being flashy, the new minimalism as you can hear it on the majority of the songs displays an incredibly increased melodic gift, inspiration and tastefulness. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the few albums of the past five years I’d play just to listen to the guitar playing: during the ballads, it’s mellow and occasionally touching, while he also knows how to rock out during the album’s (few) straightforward rock songs.
You could argue that this time around, the album is dominated by the mellow songs, as almost half of the tracks (several of ‘em being highlights on the album) could qualify as ballads or pop-oriented tracks you could also place in that category with a stretch of the imagination. There are also the hyper funk tracks, of course, but they’re in a minority. In between those, there are a few songs that are neither, opting for a more straightforward rock direction. The first of the sissy songs that made an impact, “Scar Tissue,” immediately showed the new course to full effect. More than ever, melody has become the key ingredient in their music, in the song, the playing and the vocals. Just listen to Frusciante’s delicate, minimal technique, which he basically keeps up during the album. Even better than “Scar Tissue” is “Other Side,” a song that still gets to me because of Kiedis’ wonderful performance and those backing vocals that take the song to an entirely different level they hadn’t even explored yet. The same basically goes for the wistful title track – that also contains a short but wonderful solo by Frusciante – and “Porcelain,’ which finds the band entering more fragile territory than ever before. An awesome addition to this list is the acoustic album closer, “Road Trippin’ ”, an introvert song that has more in common with Elliott Smith’s lush portraits than their own previous escapades. Respect. Somewhere hovering between this category and the pop songs are “This Velvet Glove,” a song that’s quite similar to “Californication,” but that comes with occasional rock outbursts. Much better though, are “Parallel Universe” and “Easily,” the first boasting a truly fantastic chorus. Not all of the album’s tracks are as impressive, as “Emit Remmus” with its sustained notes and pounding groove never did anything for me, and neither did the mid-tempo funk-rock of “Purple Stain,” but there are remarkably few filler tracks on the album. Even the nervous funk-inflected mofos are for the most part enjoyable as hell: opening track “Around the World” (yeah, the one with the massive intro) is pleasantly bouncy, “Get on Top” features some bludgeoning bass work by Flea and some of the band’s silliest lyrics (“Gorilla, Cuntilla, Sammy D and Salmonella, come with me ‘cause I’m an ass killer’), while “I Like Dirt” and “Right on Time” despite their flimsiness, are more fun than most of their previous punk-funk blasts. Sure, Californication isn’t a perfect album, but it’s one hell of an album by a band I no longer deemed capable of making. It’s always great when a band surprises you, but when they do it with as much class and superb songs as the Peppers on Californication, it’s quite a blast.