Fake heartbreak is a top 40 staple; it’s usually carried by Michael Boltonesque histrionics. On the other hand, real heartbreak (think Joy Division) tends to be quiet; it kinda sneaks up on you and grabs you and then sticks with you for the rest of the day. On One Hot Minute, “Transcending” has that quality: gorgeously trancey, anguished, undulating rhythm loops and crescendos wrap around lyrics about death that are both weirdly spiritual (“Never know when the gods will come and/Take you/To a loving stream”) and raging (“Fuck the magazines/Fuck the green machine”).
All this from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the sloppy punk-funk troupe that rose to fame wearing tube socks on its dicks.
One Hot Minute dives into the emotionally deep end of drug addiction and loss, themes the Chili Peppers first touched on in their biggest hit to date, “Under the Bridge,” from their 1991 megaplatinum wonder, BloodSugarSexMagik. For these guys, seriousness turns out to be a lot more liberating than any misadventure. Before their original guitarist Hillel Slovak’s 1988 accidental-overdose death, the Peppers’ gleeful insanity often masked their broad and fluent musical vocabulary, including bassist Flea’s interest in jazz and classical music. Now their belief in the power of jamming, innovation and spontaneity is fully unleashed. One Hot Minute is a ferociously eclectic and imaginative disc that also presents the band members as more thoughtful, spiritual — even grown-up. After a 10 plus-year career, they’re realizing their potential at last.
Since the Chili Peppers are cagey veterans and returning producer Rick Rubin is no fool, One Hot Minute also offers songs that recall the hits on BloodSugarSexMagik: “One Big Mob” features a moody, sensitive section and furious, atonal, minimalist funk à la the Grammy-winning “Give It Away.” “Falling Into Grace” takes the Chilis’ deep, funky groove and adds a sexy, unexpected Middle Eastern flavor, cool and somehow malevolent. The melody line twines itself around the groove like a snake charmer’s critter.
“My Friends,” with its lovely, vaguely folky chorus, sports the same sad wishfulness of Blood Sugar‘s “Under the Bridge” and “Breaking the Girl.” Ditto “Tearjerker,” one of the tracks that reflects One Hot Minute‘s recurring death-and-loss theme. Less successful is “Deep Kick,” whose Doors-ish spoken-word intro (“Love and music can save us and did while the giant gray monster grew more poisoned and volatile around us”) comes off as pretentious and silly — although its punch line, “The Butthole Surfers/Always said it’s better to regret/Something you did/Than something you didn’t do,” is surely something to live by. Even better, this bit is recited in a zippy tone while squealy, off-center instruments create a drunken cacophony in the background. It’s the sonic equivalent of a loud birthday party.
“Warped” mixes harrowing lyrics (“Night craving/Sends me crawling”; “I need repair/Take me please/To anywhere”) with a multitoned, layered intro and a whirling dervish of noises and big-rock rhythms surfing through and over big, funky hooks. It’s like, well, a drug rush. But “Transcending” is the real triumph: Flea takes a go-round with lyrics and, stealing a page from Natalie Merchant, pens a tribute to his dead friend River Phoenix.
A succession of Peppers guitarists has followed Slovak’s death. Perhaps the newest member, Dave Navarro, formerly of Jane’s Addiction, will become a permanent addition. He makes a real contribution by taking the Chili Peppers’ penchant for jazzy, unexpected nuance and sonic telepathy one step further — and also helps the band plug into its slamming punk-metal roots as well as a more retro, syncopated funkiness.
The joyful pro-creative “Aeroplane” (“Music is my aeroplane”) features a happy midtempo groove that recalls pre-pop Kool and the Gang and ends with a chorus of children’s voices (including Flea’s daughter, Clara). “Walkabout” makes the groove slower, lazier, more spare — and then surprises with a snappy fusion break.
The disc’s most potentially controversial song, the Catholic-baiting “Shallow Be Thy Game” (“To anyone who’s listenin’/You’re not born into sin/The guilt they try and give you/Puke it in the nearest bin”) bristles with metallic fury, while “Pea” picks up on the big rampage-of-power-chords stampede of old Priest-Ozzy-Maiden metal, then metamorphoses it into similarly aggressive funk.
And then there’s the title track. It’s funky and fun. It’s about love and sex. What the hell. Some things don’t have to change. When they do it live, they’ll probably be wearing wild ‘n’ wacky hats.