Freaky Styley

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After nearly two decades of racial division, popular music is in the midst of an overdue and exciting (if modest) effort to integrate itself. One particularly happy result is the pairing of George Clinton with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Having dallied with Thomas Dolby on his own new album, the P-Funk overlord furthers his far-reaching stylistic influence by schooling the Los Angeles quartet in the ways of the venerable funkmaster.

A fairly outrageous bunch to begin with, the Chili Peppers raise their buttshaking dementia to new heights of prurient rhythmic frenzy under their producer's sage if zany guidance. Freaky Styley, the Peppers' first full-length album, is wilder, rougher, funnier and funkier than their self-titled EP, which was no semiotics colloquium itself. From the psychedelicized guitar, subliminal background voices and urgent, aggressive dance beat of "Jungle Man" to "Yertle the Turtle," a weird animalkingdom fable, the Peppers bump, vamp, rock, leer and growl their unique musical mutation that borrows songs from Sly Stone ("If You Want Me to Stay") and the Meters along with assorted moves from Clinton, James Brown, Peter Wolf and others. They dabble in egotistical rap ("Nevermind") and nubile punk ("Catholic School Girls Rule") and toss in poetry delivered in a Brooklyn accent, a horny folk chant, a brief political commentary and "Blackeyed Blonde," which can only be described as Aerosmith meets Isaac Hayes. Drummer Cliff Martinez' wicked backbeat and Flea Balzary's popping, percolating bass provide the relentless energy drive for Anthony Kiedis' often smutty vocalizing and Hillel Slovak's guitar work, a mix of crazed solos, nostalgic wah-wah and rhythmic scratching. A sharp horn trio from the Clinton camp adds appropriate punctuation, helping to obscure the songs' tendency toward tunelessness.

The Peppers' quasi-orthodox hard funk might appear to be an imitation of "black" music for a white audience, but they're actually irreverent, punky rockers with a jones for rhythm & blues vernacular (lyrical and musical) and a commitment to humor, variety and unbridled stylistic independence. Along with Fishbone, Was (Not Was), the Beastie Boys and others — white and black — the Chili Peppers are taking advantage of the current crossover free-for-all to universalize funk by expanding its limits and incorporating new ingredients without diluting the basic bump. Fed up with the empty calories of effete high-tech dance records? Freaky Styley is stick-to-the-ribs rock that puts meat back in the motion.

From The Archives Issue 771: October 16, 1997
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