Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Friday Classic LP: Red Hot Chili Peppers—Mother’s Milk

(For a while we tried a "Friday Classic LP" review at TONE, where we mentioned an classic album that was still currently available on LP and reviewed it. Unfortunately, the feature left with me, and this was the last one that never made it to print.)

Chad Smith once worked for my buddy Scott in the film industry. One day, Chad approached Scott at work and asked for the afternoon off. “The Chili Peppers are having try-outs for new drummers,” he said. Scott, who was also a musician, gave him the time off and wished him luck. “I didn’t even know you played the drums,” Scott said.

Later that afternoon, Scott got a call from Chad. “I won’t be coming in tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. I’m a Chili Pepper!”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were definitely in state of transition before their 1989 breakthrough album Mother’s Milk. Guitarist Hillel Slovak had died from a heroin overdose the year before, and drummer Jack Irons, who suffered from bipolar disorder, decided to exit the band shortly thereafter. While the band certainly enjoyed a strong cult following up to that point (especially in their native Los Angeles), they had yet to truly enter the mainstream. With the addition of Chad and guitarist John Frusciante, the Chili Peppers entered the studio a little more saddened, a little more grown-up, and they churned out an album that would finally make them famous.

Mother’s Milk wound up selling three times as many copies as their previous LP, 1987’s The Uplift Mojo Party Plan. Chad’s drumming was clean, powerful and athletic and gave the band a less funky and more rock-oriented sound. John Frusciante’s guitar style, however, was greatly influenced by Slovak, so the band retained much of their basic identity. Mother’s Milk was a huge hit, and their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” became a permanent fixture on alternative radio playlists all over the world. “Good Time Boys” and “Knock Me Down” also charted as singles. As an added bonus, the Peppers provide a fun and blistering version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Fire.”

Many critics felt that this was the turning point for the band, and that without Mother’s Milk the band wouldn’t be the success it is today. I feel that as good as this album is, it would have been a fluke without the more accomplished and ambitious follow-up, 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Still, Mother’s Milk is a great party album, full of groove and funk and generous helpings of power rock.

And hey, I know the drummer.

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