Friday, April 8, 2011

Mediocre Red Hot Chili Peppers Holds Up Poorly With One Hot Minute.

The Good: Moments of lyrics, Musically different than most other RHCP albums
The Bad: Annoying backing vocals, Largely unmemorable
The Basics: Entirely forgettable, One Hot Minute is a very average rock and roll album and fails to use the talents of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

For those who do not follow my reviews, I never have a problem with posting a contrarian point of view. In fact, when it comes to music reviews, I am usually happy when my view differs from the mainstream and I have an opportunity to present a well-argued point from my own (usually unique) perspective. So when my wife informed me that One Hot Minute was a Red Hot Chili Peppers album she did not care one whiff about, I suspected that my not hating it might put me in the minority. So, I was generally surprised when one of the less-popular Red Hot Chili Peppers albums was rated so generally favorably online.

The truth is, One Hot Minute is, indeed, a lackluster Red Hot Chili Peppers album. It is, however, a very typical pop-rock album and while it sounds unlike any other Chili Peppers album, it sounds very much like any number of other mainstream pop-rock albums, especially those of the mid-1990s when it was originally released. At the time, pop was more synth and keyboard dominated, as well as having more of a feminine flavor to it and as a result, many post-grunge rock bands were delegated "alternative." Still, works like One Hot Minute seem very pedestrian and average when compared to the pantheon of rock albums before or since. If anything, the real problem with this album is not that it is bad, it is that One Hot Minute is not distinct in any memorable way, nor is it interesting to those who have broad tastes in rock and roll. To be fair to the band, this is a very different sounding (in some ways) album from the rest of Red Hot Chili Peppers' works, but sometimes creativity does not mean success.

With thirteen songs occupying just over an hour on compact disc, One Hot Minute is a strange album in the history of Red Hot Chili Peppers as guitarist John Frusciante had left the band at the time and was replaced by Dave Navarro (he's more than just an obscure Family Guy reference!). Navarro's only studio album with the Red Hot Chili Peppers was One Hot Minute and he played the primary guitars on the tracks as well as accompanying Flea on backing vocals. One Hot Minute actually affords Flea the opportunity to present lead vocals on the unmemorable song "Pea," but otherwise the usual mix applied. Even longtime producer Rick Rubin was involved in making One Hot Minute and given that the quartet wrote all of the songs on the album, this is indisputably the album the band wanted to make at the time.

Recognizable from One Hot Minute are the singles "My Friends" and "Aeroplane," but neither of these songs had the success of "Under The Bridge" from the prior album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. "My Friends," arguably, tries to retain the pop-rock ballad loving audience who had bought the prior album based on the strength of the single "Under The Bridge" and "Aeroplane" is a fairly light pop-rock tune that is danceable, generally inoffensive (as much as a song that used the word mother-f-er can be) and fun. The rest of the album is completely indistinct and unmemorable, though. Having listened to One Hot Minute on constant replay for the last two days (over a dozen times now) it is easy to assert that outside the recognizable singles, there is nothing distinctive or even interesting on the album.

That is not entirely true. Amid the loud guitar-rock songs there is the incongruent "Walkabout," which is a slower, weirder, strangely more articulate song than the rest of the songs on the album. This exception is just that, an exception to the guitar-driven rock and roll songs that dominate the rest of the piece. And "Walkabout" is singsong in its vocals, underwhelming in its lyrics and utterly unmemorable in its instrumental accompaniment. In fact, if this amelodic work has a tune, I cannot even recall what it sounds like and the only instrumentation that is memorable on the song is that the guitar warbles. Outside that, Kiedis may as well be speaking the lines and the song falls very flat.

One Hot Minute is the work of a very traditional guitar, bass and drums group and what separates this album from the other Red Hot Chili Peppers albums is that the guitars of Dave Navarro are louder than prior albums. The guitarwork is more repetitive and has a more electric sound to it, with more speedy strumming on a lot of the songs. While Red Hot Chili Peppers is known to have more funk-based guitarwork on a lot of their songs, One Hot Minute's guitars are more standard and they dominate the songs, whereas usually Flea's bass at least fights for the listener's ear. On these songs, though, the guitar dominates, but there are no distinctive melodies where the guitar creates an interesting song. The only exception to this is "My Friends" where the fingering is lighter and Navarro actually plucks off some of the notes, as opposed to strumming fast.

With Navarro's guitars creating background music and Flea's bass sublimated to that, it falls to drummer Chad Smith to keep the sound consistent or recognizable as a Red Hot Chili Peppers sound and either he fails or producer Rick Rubin does not produce the percussion so it has a prominent position in any of the songs. Problematically, Smith's percussion is virtually absent. This is one of the aspects of One Hot Minute that makes the album so different from other Red Hot Chili Pepper albums; usually Smith's drumming is noticeable and even prominent. None of the songs on this album have drumming that is in any way distinctive or audacious.

This leaves Anthony Kiedis to sell One Hot Minute on the strength of his vocals. Here, though, the album is a mixed bag of mediocrity and exactly what one expects from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kiedis is a tenor and he does not extend or test his range at all on One Hot Minute. Instead, this is very much the typical presentation of Red Hot Chili Pepper lyrics that one would expect. For sure, he is earnest and direct while singing "My Friends" and articulate on every other song, but the vocals are exactly what one expects; there are no surprises on the album.

In fact, the only real surprise is how inane some of the lyrics can be. Take, for example, "Coffee Shop," which is a pretty typical pop-rock song in its instrumentation, production and even vocal presentation. Not at all the natural successor to "Sir Psycho Sexy," the song has singsong rhymes and a pointlessly simple bit of sexual imagery. Indeed, it is hard to believe Anthony Kiedis is able to make it through the lines "Meet me at the coffee shop / We can dance like Iggy Pop / Another go in the parking lot / Frewak [I've no idea what that means] the cheek on your hotspot / Back and forth my body's jerking / Will to thrill will not stop working" ("Coffee Shop") with a straight face.

This is not to say all of the lines are completely lame, as radio-listeners to the Red Hot Chili Peppers know. The radio-played "My Friends" does a decent job of presenting the strong sense of loneliness and loss that many of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs convey. Despite being overplayed at the time, the poetry of "I love all of you / Hurt by the cold / So hard and lonely too / When you don't know yourself / My friends are so distressed / And standing on / The brink of emptiness / No words... I know of to express / This emptiness" ("My Friends") is memorable and insightful. "One Hot Minute" is preoccupied in many ways with loneliness and loss and "My Friends" captures that well.

Unfortunately, the similar song, "Transcending" is not so wonderful. "Transcending" has a similar sense of mood to "My Friends," but the sound is different and the lyrics do not pop the way the hit song does. It is utterly forgettable when Kiedis sings "Friends near death you gave respect / Sympathetic intellect / Choices are, for one and all / All we are is leaves that fall" ("Transcending") and the predictable rhyme scheme does not help sell the song any better. In all, though, that characterizes One Hot Minute well; forgettable and simple. Fans of Red Hot Chili Peppers deserve better than that.

The best song is "My Friends," though "Aeroplane" is fun and not found on the Greatest Hits album. The low point is the completely forgettable "One Big Mob."

For other works by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, please check out my reviews of:
Mother's Milk
"Give It Away" (single)
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
"Soul To Squeeze" (single)
"Otherside" (single)
By The Way
Greatest Hits And Videos
The Best Of Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium Arcadium


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page.

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

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