Friday, January 4, 2008
No. 310: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Band: The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Album: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Red Hot Chili Peppers sell a lot of goddamned records. Like, a lot of records. This is the first of those chart-smashing albums about lust, drugs and, uh, something. I don't know. Rocking.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: If you want a straight definition of dumb, frat-boy rock, here it is. The music has the smallest tinge of funk while relying on rock guitar riffs and easy sing/shout vocals.
Best song: "Breaking the Girl" is probably the most interesting song on the record, though it's still a facsimile of a real song.
Worst song: "Sir Psycho Sexy" is basically Stone Temple Pilot's "Sex Type Thing," only worse.
Is it awesome?: I don't think so.
Before we get into this, let me say something about the Chili Peppers: I have no problem with Flea, Chad Smith and John Frusciante as musicians. They are all talented, if not hugely so. I love the work Flea did with Jane's Addiction when that band reformed in the late 1990s and find Frusciante's guitar work to be, at least, pretty inventive. Chad Smith is solid, if nothing.
(Anthony Kiedis isn't a singer, but he plays one in this band. His ability as a "front man" is seemingly more important to the band than his actual voice, but a lot of singers are cursed with the same affliction. He's handsome, ripped and mildly charismatic. That's enough for rock and roll. We can't all be Danzig, after all.)
Having decent players in your band does not automatically guarantee great music. I always look to Phish for an example of a band that can clearly play (listen to their musical costume stuff), but can't write a song to save their lives. In the case of the Chili Peppers, this is all too evident. The songs they write are either middle-of-the-road nonsense ("Breaking The Girl," "Under the Bridge," etc.) or white-guy funk nonsense ("Give It Away" and "Suck My Kiss").
Mike Judge's film "Idiocracy" posits that our culture is on a decline towards a desolate existence, framed by language entirely built on grunts and violence. I don't think you really need to look too far from television to see this. Football remains the most popular sport in the United States with NASCAR coming quickly behind. Both sports feature short bursts of loudness and the most one can hope for in either game is violence.
Our films, a lot of the time, rely entirely on dick jokes and fat suits. TV has gotten better, but the most talked-about jokes on some of the best TV shows seem to often be jokes about homosexuality or nudity. We oversexualize our youth (See the Spears girls for examples) and we watch news stories about lost blonde women as people in Darfur are shot for simply being an Arab or a Dinka.
With all of that said, I am not trying to be Bill Bennett here. I don't love these aspects of our culture. To be honest, I don't know if I can even judge these things or even what to compare them to. I've been watching old episodes of "The Muppet Show" recently and I can't say that a society of puns and stupid sight gags would really mean a better world. This is where our culture is and this is where our culture is going.
I'm not sure I know how to transition this to the Chili Peppers, but, this record reminds me of that culture. I imagine some of this association has to do with the rapid-fire singing that Anthony Kiedis tries. "Give It Away" is like getting hit by a vocal machine gun, while the chorus of "Suck My Kiss" has sporadic, but hard hits. On some level, I think it's because the people I meet who love the Chili Peppers aren't necessarily the Joe Francises of the world, but rather your regular frat guy who loves football, his pastel-shirted girlfriend and calling his friends "fag" when joking. He doesn't mean anything homophobic with it, but he is just too lazy to think up a good insult ("needle-dicked bug fucker" always works).
With that said, it's hard to overexplain how popular this record was when it came out. The band's conversion from metal metal funksters to pop music curiosity was nearly overnight thanks to "Blood Sugar Sex Magik." Admittedly, I was just a young kid, but it seemed like one minute their cover of "Higher Ground" was on MTV and the next, they were headlining Lollapalooza.
The draw, I think, is of the kiddie pool shallowness and bang-bang short attention span of the lead two singles, "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge." The frat guy crowd presumably went nuts for "Give It Away," if only because each line of the song's non-sequitor lyrics could be presumed to be about something. Often, the lines were -- the bit about a river is about River Phoenix -- and often, the lines about "fertility" and "giving it" were simply about sex. Like the rest of the goddamned album.
"Under the Bridge" has more of a somber one, being about (of course) drug use. The band's attempt at being Queen doesn't really work on a large level, though it's a valiant effort towards time changes, singing about something other than sex and a real breakdown. Is it a great song? Hardly, but it's better than "Give It Away."
By the way, here's one of the images from the sleeve artwork:
Honestly, this is made for meatheads. Tribal tattoos and muscles.
While talented, I can't see the Chili Peppers for much other than a cheap ripoff of Faith No More. Both had mercurial singers, funk tendencies and a genre-mix style. Faith No More, of course, was harder edged and not radio-friendly. The Chili Peppers? Basically, a neutered Faith No MOre.
Honestly, it's hard for me to really take seriously a band whose entire oeuvre deals with the cliche of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Really, what else is on this album other than a few lines of half-witted philosophy in "Give It Away?" Not much, if you ask me.