(Warner CDW 47386)
If you’re a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that long time Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante has returned to the band after a hiatus spanning several years and one album (the middling One Hot Minute, which aside from about three tracks, was very forgettable). The bad news is Californication is not the return to form that fans might have hoped for.
While it’s nice to hear Frusciante’s clean, sparse playing again, sadly the band seems to have largely abandoned what it does best. Specifically, they’ve traded the funky, hip-hop hybrid musical style and funny, albeit sex-obsessed, lyrical attitude that made Blood Sugar Sex Magic such a fun record, for a darker, grungier sound on Californication. Although there are a couple of exceptions, Scar Tissue (the first single) and the title track are the album’s best tunes, the Chili Peppers sound out of their element, like they’re playing the set list of some brooding, early 90’s Seattle band. With only the occasional good melodic hook and the almost total absence of any decent lyrical content (again the title track is the exception) there isn’t a lot on this record to keep me coming back for more. As usual Flea shows off his phenomenal bass chops, but it just isn’t enough to save this one.
I wish I could say something good about the sound, but, alas, this disc sounds truly wretched. In fact, this is the worst sounding pop/rock CD I’ve heard in years, especially considering that this is not a band which would have to compromise on production quality for financial reasons. Hard, busy, hashy, seriously coloured, and compressed to within an inch of its life Californication is best used as a cautionary example to aspiring recording engineers, a fine example of what not to do. Think I’m a picky audiophile who’s exaggerating just a little bit? How many CDs have you bought lately which feature audible peak distortion (not guitar amp distortion) on three or more tracks? Some might argue that they were after a particular “sound,” an aural aesthetic which would somehow complement the music. Bollocks. Producer Rick Rubin (who should know better after producing Blood Sugar Sex Magic) and engineer/mixer Jim Scott made an already mediocre record into a barely listenable mediocre record. To hear exactly how good a rock record can sound those two should pick up Pavement’s new Terror Twilight.