Plagued by disaster and discord, most people find their state of mind wanders inexorably towards the fjords in a long black coat. “Girls in push-up bras” aren’t a recognised part of the lexicon of misery – but then the [a]Red Hot Chili Peppers[/a] are the band for whom the dread word ‘irrepressible’ was invented.
Never mind that they’ve lost close friends and band members to drugs and dissatisfaction, or that their unstable guitarist recruitment policy has led them close to the brink of self-destruction, they’ve never lost their knack for making everything sound like a gleefully sticky schoolyard euphemism, for revelling in the leering testosterone and goateed bass that stalks the world of nightmare.
Despite the messages given off by the title, ‘Californication’ is supposedly the band at their most reflective, a meditation on the shallowness of West Coast life and a celebration of the bonds of band and friendship triggered by their reunion with ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ guitarist John Frusciante. A ‘Deserter’s Songs’ for people who like to go ‘Heurghhh!’, occasionally they do slide into genuine melancholy – the closing ‘Road Trippin’‘ best encapsulates their sweetly adolescent camaraderie by loading up a van with “my two favourite allies” and, ahhh, [I]”snacks” [/I]and heading off to discuss surfing and, hey, brother, the new record. The title track, too, is just made for standing on Santa Monica Pier in a blustery overcoat, pondering the ends of the earth – and if the whole ‘Hollywood is pornography’ metaphor makes you wish people would just move to Kent and, like, get over it, it’s touched with a certain maturity.
Like watching a child star in their first role as an accountant, though, it’s still hard to take them seriously. There’s a staccato burst of petulance here called ‘I Love Dirt’ and even as they’re trying for the adult themes that reflect their hard-line lives, they can’t quite shake off their much-loved, inherently juvenile aesthetic of ugliness, looming on the horizon of every song like a veiny [I]Robert Crumb[/I] creation. It’s there in the fiendishly clever anagram of ‘Emit Remmus’, furious Sabbath lurching bizarrely backing a tale of going to the movies in Leicester Square; lurking in the woozy piano of ‘Porcelain’, where Anthony Kiedis upends decades of lyrical tradition by rhyming [I]”moon” [/I]with [I]”womb”[/I]; and best of all, burrowed deep in the seal-barking, foil-chewing funk of ‘Get On Top’. ‘Suck My Kiss’ has become ‘feel my pain’ – and yes, you can bet they say that to all the girls.
This, it seems, is how they ward off the demons. For most people it’s called adolescence. For the Chili Peppers, it’s a lifelong vocation.