"What if we call the new album Hypersensitive? Anthony Kiedis wonders aloud. The band's 32-year-old lead singer and lyricist — legs propped up on a plush L-shaped couch, his long chestnut tresses shimmering in the dim lamplight — poses this seemingly absurd question to his band mates with so much solemnity that it stifles all chatter.
Flea, the band's wiry bass player, is seated cross-legged to Kiedis' left, his rubbery countenance twisted in thought. In a heartbeat he snaps to attention and blurts out, "How about The Sensitives?"
"I could go for both of those," guitarist Dave Navarro, sagely stroking his red-devil goatee. "I think that Sensitive is good, too. Or Los Sensitivos."
"How about Ritual de Sensitivos?" adds drummer Chad Smith with a half-stifled chuckle. (The reference is to Ritual de lo Habitual, the most popular album by Jane's Addiction, Navarro's previous band.) The moment's intense mood has been shattered. But Kiedis persists. "Let's still consider Hypersensitive," he says, now almost whispering. Flea, blue eyes afire, jumps in again: "Yeah, and we can have a guy on the cover with a big syringe that says SENSITIVE inside!"
At last, consensus. During the past few weeks, the new Chili Peppers album has held far more unlikely titles, intriguing howlers like Turtlehead, Black Fish Ferris Wheel, The Blight Album and The Good and Bad Moods of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. For a while, everything about the album — such as which of the 20 tracks recorded would appear on the album, their order, their titles — has been in flux, subject to the band's daily whims. But now all four band members are raising their arms in unison — imagine the Marx Brothers doing the Three Musketeers — as Flea leads the cheer: All for Hypersensitive and one for Hypersensitive!" Needless to say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers do not dub their long-awaited sixth studio album Hypersensitive or The Sensitives or, for that matter, any of the above. Later a new name is settled on: One Hot Minute. It is, in fact, the perfect title for the latest from rock's reigning punk-funk maestros. Once irrevocably associated with drugs, death and sex, which earned them a reputation as one of the most consistently controversial rock acts of the last decade, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have mellowed. But if their offstage antics aren't as death defying as they used to be, the Chili Peppers on disc are walking a much higher wire. Gone for the most part are the marauding free-form jams that made them famous. What remains is a lightning distillation of everything that first made the band matter: Imagine butt-shaking funk played at skate-punk speed wrapped in a vaguely Zeppelinesque grandeur. But tempered by experience, today's Chili Peppers are more introspective, more Zen-like, more attuned to their respective psyches.
Indeed, a kinder, gentler camaraderie has all but subsumed the thuggish frat-boy bonds on which the Chili Peppers first staked their career. The wholesale change manifests itself most clearly on "My Friends," the bittersweet sequel to the breakthrough single "Under the Bridge." If "Bridge" found Kiedis repenting for his own mortal transgressions, then "Friends" reveals the changed man looking outward (My friends are so depressed/I feel the question of your loneliness"). For a few minutes, anyway, this achingly poignant ballad swaps the trademark Chili Pepper id for a conspicuous generosity of spirit. Can happy thoughts have demolished angry punk aggression? Has brotherly love replaced free love all in a flash?
"Yep," Dave Navarro says drolly, thumbing the silver hoop that dangles through his navy tank top from his right nipple. "We're all really fucking sensitive."