ANTHONY KIEDIS IS SITTING IN THE LIVING ROOM of his Los Angeles home, holding his heart in his hands: a pair of plain-looking advance CDs containing the twenty-eight songs on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new double album, Stadium Arcadium. “Love and women, pregnancies and marriages, relationship struggles — those are real and profound influences on this record,” the band’s singer says in a deep, thoughtful voice.
“And it’s great,” he adds quickly, “because it wasn’t just me writing about the fact that I’m in love. It was everybody in the band. We were brimming with energy based on falling in love.”
And staying in it. Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith took nearly two years to write, record and obsessively refine the psychedelic swagger and atomic singalong pop on Stadium Arcadium. Smith also got married (his second time around) and became a first-time dad (again), while Flea — who has a teenage daughter by a previous marriage — has a new baby girl, Sunny, with his fiancée, Frankie Rayder.
Kiedis and Frusciante are both still single but spoken for. Frusciante is going out with a singer, Emily Kokal. And as Kiedis talks, perched on the edge of an overstuffed chair in front of a huge stone fireplace, his girlfriend Heather can be heard rattling around next door in the kitchen, making a pot of tea.
“I could show you a line or two in every song that speaks of all that,” Kiedis claims. Then he does exactly that, going through Stadium Arcadium track-by-track, noting the references to commitment in general and Heather in particular in the ballads “Desecration Smile” and “Hard to Concentrate,” the droning folk of “If” and the funk hardball, “Charlie.” He cites the affection and crisis in “So Much I,” “Wet Sand” and “C’mon Girl.” The first verse in “She’s Only 18” came, Kiedis says, when he found that Heather was “decidedly disinterested in the Rolling Stones. Here’s a band loved by hundreds of millions, and she was like, ‘I could care less.’ ” He grins. “It seemed like a great way to start a song.”
But when Kiedis, 43, gets to the high-speed torment of “Torture Me,” the light in his still-boyish, sexy-devil features goes out: “Sometimes it makes sense to thank the universe for all the pain it gives you, because that’s where growth comes from. If you just bum out on pain and suffering, you don’t get the lesson.” It’s as if the Chili Peppers’ first two decades have just passed before his eyes: the fatal 1988 overdose of original guitarist Hillel Slovak; Kiedis’ own long battle with heroin in the Eighties and Nineties; the dysfunction that nearly killed the Chili Peppers just as they hit multiplatinum with 1991’s Bloodsugarsexmagik; Frusciante’s subsequent six years in exile and addiction, ending with the reunion triumph of 1999’s Californication.
“It’s funny, looking back at our band,” says Flea, whose real name is Michael Balzary and who became inseparable friends with Kiedis as soon as they met, in the tenth grade at L.A.’s Fairfax High School. “Throughout every situation — death, drug abuse, losing a member — when things went well, it was because we were honest and giving. And things didn’t go well when we weren’t.
“You have to be willing to love somebody no matter what,” insists the bassist, also forty-three. “It’s a big thing on this record — loving the faults. That’s what commitment is. To make something complete — a rich life, a rich record — you gotta love all the parts.”
Back in his living room, Kiedis is talking about another album track, “Snow (Hey Oh),” a soft shuffle with a driving bridge and the ring of a future hit single. The light in his eyes goes on again. “It’s about surviving, starting fresh,” he says. “I’ve made a mess of everything, but I have a blank slate — a canvas of snow — and I get to start over.”
Six weeks later, Stadium Arcadium is released, and love conquers all. The two-CD set debuts at the top of the Sound-Scan album chart, selling more than 440,000 copies in its opening week. It is the first Number One album of the Chili Peppers’ twenty-three-year career.