Friday, February 25, 2011

Red Hot Chili Peppers's Mother's Milk Is Soured By Overproduction And Pretense.

The Good: Moments of musical originality, Covers are all right
The Bad: Lyrics are often terrible, Vocals are noisy, Instrumental accompaniment is amelodic, SHORT
The Basics: Loud, frenetic and overproduced, Mother's Milk is a disappointingly chaotic Red Hot Chili Peppers album that may be easily passed by.

My wife is a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She owns almost all of their works and they are her favorite band (her favorite artist is David Bowie, but Red Hot Chili Peppers are close behind, it seems). It is because of her that Red Hot Chili Peppers were once my Artist Of The Month. It might surprise some that she did not have Mother's Milk, one of the earlier Red Hot Chili Peppers albums (the predecessor to their first big hit Blood Sugar Sex Magik). However, for those who have heard the album - as I have now nine times - it might be less of a surprise that she is not adding this one to her collection.

Mother's Milk is funk-rock album by Red Hot Chili Peppers that is entirely lacking in the softer side the band has developed in recent years. Instead, it is louder, the guitars are monotonously thrashing and the lyrics are presented in a singing style that often sounds like the words are being vomited out - especially by the backing vocals. The shouted style of vocal performance is a striking contrast to what comes later, most notably with the band's first smash hit "Under The Bridge." For those raised on mainstream radio-played Chili Peppers, Mother's Milk is a charmless devolution and it is amazing that a band that sounds like such an average garage band (on this album) resulted in such a truly wonderful musical ensemble.

With thirteen songs, clocking out at 44:50, Mother's Milk is the first Red Hot Chili Peppers album with the now-recognizable quartet of Flea, Anthony Kiedis, Chad Smith and John Frusciante. The quartet plays all of the primary instruments (save on "Fire," where the original guitarist and drummer remain) and the music on Mother's Milk is very traditionally guitar, bass, drums rock music. The band is mostly responsible for the sound as they wrote all but two songs (the Red Hot Chili Peppers present covers of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and Jimi Hendrix's "Fire"). The album was produced by Michael Beinhorn, who produced some earlier Red Hot Chili Peppers albums. This album seems to be largely the vision of the band at that time and it is mediocre. As well, there is not much of it on the original release and getting this version often leaves fans underwhelmed.

Largely, Mother's Milk is a loud rock album and the lyrics are presented primarily by Kiedis. At this point, Kiedis did not seem to care much if people could hear what he was saying and the backing vocals by Frusciante on "Good Time Boys" overwhelms his. His lyrics are often shouted out and overwhelmed by the guitars that are being noisily banged upon and then produced in front of the vocals. In some cases, the overproduction protects Red Hot Chili Peppers as their songs on Mother's Milk have some truly inane lyrics. For example, the almost random string of rhyming phrases "Travel round the world gettin naked on the stage / Bustin' people out of their everyday cage / We like to think we make a sad man happy / And we like to make proud our mammy and our pappy . . . Like a pack of mad hatters who come from outer space / Our swinging's gonna shatter every stone cold face" ("Good Time Boys") is blissfully obscured on the album by the guitarwork.

In addition to lame lyrics and vocals overproduced to be underemphasized and unclear (what is the point of writing lyrics if you don't want them to be understood?!) Mother's Milk suffers from a strong sense of repetition. In this way, even the cover songs do not help the album. "Higher Ground" has something of a simple melody that is repeated - an effect made worse by a repeated "wah-wah" sound used throughout the Red Hot Chili Pepper version - over and over again and the cover is tiresome. Most of the Red Hot Chili Pepper songs on this album that do have melodies (as opposed to sounding like a lot of banging on the drums and random guitar licks) have a lot of repetition. "Subway To Venus" uses the same riff over and over again and "Magic Johnson" is little more than a repeated chant.

Ironically, one of the nicer tracks on Mother's Milk is "Pretty Little Ditty," which is a one and a half minute instrumental track which has a slower, sadder sound to it than anything else on the album.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the album is exemplified by songs like "Stone Cold Bush," which is a lyrically vacant, noisy song. On that song, Red Hot Chili Peppers presents the lines "She's stone cold bush yea / And that's all right with me / Get up off your knees, come on walk with me / Tell me what you need to get along / A statue come to life / I cut you with my knife / Bleeding to the tune of dolly dagger" ("Stone Cold Bush") amid banging drums and frenetic guitars. Vocally, Kiedis is at his most amelodic here and the song is arguably what gets the album the Parental Advisory.

The covers are not terribly original. "Fire" is a pretty true interpretation of Hendrix's original and "Higher Ground" is essentially a guitar-driven version of Wonder's original song. On neither song does the band present any sort of innovative interpretation of the song being covered. This helps make the album sound like it is coming from a pretty juvenile garage band. Those who like rock and roll and originality will find very little of it on Mother's Milk.

The best track is "Pretty Little Ditty," the low point is "Good Time Boys," though it's a tough call on this one!

For other works by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, please check out my reviews of:
"Otherside" (single)
By The Way
Greatest Hits And Videos
The Best Of Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium Arcadium


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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