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 Ruben (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.