Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Artist Of The Month Exploration Of Red Hot Chili Peppers Ends (Mostly) High With Greatest Hits!

The Good: Good vocals, Decent instrumental accompaniment, Duration (more or less)
The Bad: Not all radio hits are even present, There's a better version on the market
The Basics: Musically wonderful, Greatest Hits is a great collection of recognizable Red Hot Chili Pepper songs, but there is a better version (with videos) for real fans.

As I close the book on my Artist Of The Month, Red Hot Chili Peppers, I find myself ironically ending where I began. I was always into the radio hits of Red Hot Chili Peppers and after a month of immersion in their music, I find myself generally considering the band successful based on the radio-played hits with few non-single tracks that truly rock. Or rather, on the albums most of the songs that were not radio hits tend to be harder rock songs and sound nothing like what the more familiar songs sound like. So, if anything, I arrive at the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Greatest Hits bias toward it.

Why, then, am I ultimately not recommending Greatest Hits, even if I rate it so highly? Quite simply, there is a better version on the market. Greatest Hits And Videos (reviewed here!) is the same collection of music alongside a DVD of the Red Hot Chili Peppers music videos. For a few dollars more, fans get the creative and innovative musical videos by Red Hot Chili Peppers and the added value makes that the must-own compilation for fans of Red Hot Chili Peppers. This one-disc version is mediocre by comparison.

With sixteen songs occupying 66:37, Greatest Hits is the best compilation for those who enjoy what they hear from Red Hot Chili Peppers on the radio. The songs are largely the creations of Red Hot Chili Peppers; they wrote all but "Higher Ground" and there are two new songs added to this compilation. Outside "Fortune Faded" and "Save The Population," the songs are all generally the memorable tracks by Red Hot Chili Peppers. All of the songs feature the vocals of Anthony Kiedis and the members of the band play all of the primary instruments. As well, the songs are (all but "Higher Ground") produced by longtime producer Rick Rubin. Considering the long relationship the band has with Rubin, it is hard to deny that this is anything but the album the Red Hot Chili Peppers wanted to release.

And what Greatest Hits is is a generally inoffensive collection of pop-rock songs that define Red Hot Chili Peppers as one of the premiere rock bands of the 1990s (and a little beyond). Released before Stadium Arcadium, Greatest Hits includes all of the radio-played singles from Californication (as well as a few other songs from the album not released as popular singles in the U.S.). In addition to the rock songs that came off By The Way (like "Universally Speaking" and the single "By The Way"), there are the more pop sounding songs like "Californication."

In addition to the songs that revitalized Red Hot Chili Peppers after the shake-up of John Frusciante, Greatest Hits includes the singles "Soul To Squeeze" and "My Friends." Obviously the first chart hit, "Under The Bridge" is included and while rock ballads arguably made Red Hot Chili Peppers a household name, their more regular up-tempo rock and roll tracks are included to keep fans of the original Red Hot Chili Peppers happy. Of course, songs like "Suck My Kiss" illustrate the fundamental divide between fans of the radio-friendly (and played) Chili Peppers and the original band. Crass, laden with funk-guitar drawls and angry-sounding, "Suck My Kiss" is what gets Greatest Hits the Parental Advisory.

What is consistent throughout Greatest Hits is the quality of the instrumental accompaniment. Red Hot Chili Peppers is a very steady (at least with this compilation) band composed of guitar, bass and drums and throughout the rock and pop-flavored tracks, Red Hot Chili Peppers give each of their members a real "voice" in the sound of the band. John Frusicante's guitars memorably create the melody to "Under The Bridge" and now "Fortune Faded." Flea's bass is noticeable on every track and on songs like "Soul To Squeeze" and "My Friends," it is his instrument which dominates to create the melody. And Chad Smith's drumming is consistently energetic. Songs like "Californication" would not resonate with the punch that they have if it weren't for the pounding of the drums that Smith nails them with. The trio who play the instruments work together amazingly.

And they are led by the vocals of Anthony Kiedis. Kiedis has a smooth tenor voice on songs like "Otherside" and "Save The Population" and what is most surprising is how articulate he is. Unlike earlier songs like "Give It Away" and "Suck My Kiss," where Kiedis essentially leers through his songs, the more well-known songs like "Under The Bridge" and "Scar Tissue" feature vocals that are astonishingly clear. Kiedis sings the lyrics of Red Hot Chili Peppers with the intent that they be heard and as a result, Greatest Hits stands as a testament to the themes of the band, most notably surviving pain and finding a connection with others. Kiedis makes it all sound clear and easy with his vocals.

And while loneliness and loss dominate the songs of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Greatest Hits is eminently listenable. Songs like "Scar Tissue" and "Otherside" portray a surprisingly mature view of the haunting nature of surviving adversities. When Kiedis sings "Scar tissue that I wish you saw / Sarcastic mister know-it-all . . . With the birds I share a lonely view" ("Otherside") it is emotive and poetic. One need not have the backstory of the band to know that Kiedis has survived rough times; the lyrics say it all.

Similarly, the new song "Fortune Faded" is poetic and interesting. The lines "You took a town by storm the mess you made was nominated. / Oh, my! do you? / Now put away your welcome soon you'll find you've overstayed it. / Hey now, every time I lose / Attitude / So divine / Hell of an Elevator / All the while my fortune faded / Never mind, the consequences of the crime this time my fortune faded" ("Fortune Faded") are uncommon in rock and roll music. Singing about consequence and the changes of fate makes for a good song and Red Hot Chili Peppers present it well on that song.

Not all of the rhymes are fabulous, though. For example, "Give It Away" often seems like a string of random words strewn together. When Kiedis sings "Realize I don't want to be a miser / Confide with sly you'll be the wiser / Young blood is the lovin' upriser / How come everybody wanna keep it like the kaiser" ("Give It Away") he guts the strong socialist message of not being tied to material things with the utterly lame rhymes. Sadly, some of the other songs - like "Suck My Kiss" - are similarly lackluster on the rhyming front.

But largely, Greatest Hits is just that. The album is a strong collection of pop-rock songs that satisfy. And those who will like this - though they might well miss "Aeroplane" and wonder why it was not included, but "Parallel Universe" was - will enjoy the music videos and that collection is an even better way to buy.

The best song is "Otherside," the low point is the vulgar "Suck My Kiss."

For other works by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, please check out my reviews of:
Mother's Milk
"Taste The Pain" (single)
"Give It Away" (single)
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
What Hits!?
Out In L.A.
"Soul To Squeeze" (single)
One Hot Minute
"Otherside" (single)
By The Way
The Best Of Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium Arcadium


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here to see an organized listing of all of the music reviews!

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

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