Twenty years ago, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were in an odd place.
They were one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, chiefly due to the breakthrough success of their 1991 album Bloodsugarsexmagik and particularly its lead singles ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Give It Away’.
Somewhat part of the climatic ‘alternative’ scene, while also somewhat separate from it too, they were one of the most distinctive, singular breakthrough acts of the time. And they weren’t just extremely talented and addictive, but were brimming with more personality and distinctive flair than almost anyone else.
Yet by 1995, as big as they were, they were in fact nothing like as big as they would be several years later – which is an odd, uncommon situation for a successful band to be in.
One Hot Minute has since come to be viewed by music critics as something of an awkward middle-child between the hugely successful Bloodsugarsexmagik and what would be the even more hugely successful Kalifornication. It is often not even mentioned or considered when discussing the Chili Peppers.
But now, shortly after the twentieth anniversary of its release (ok, I’m a bit late), I’m going to make the case for it here. One Hot Minute is, I think, my FAVOURITE Chilli Peppers album.
Songs from the album are hardly ever played in concerts, while most fair-weather or post-Kalifornication Chili Peppers’ fans won’t be found calling out for any of these songs at shows in the way they call out for ‘Under the Bridge’ or ‘Kalifornication’.
I always find this baffling. One Hot Minute, while possibly not the band’s ‘best’ record, is a substantial piece of work. In fact, I would probably rank it above some later albums like By the Way and Stadium Arcadium.
I mean, how do you dismiss an album that contains something as heavy as ‘Warped’, as pop-tastic as ‘Aeroplane’ (so, so sorry for using the word ‘pop-tastic’), as plainly beautiful as ‘My Friends’, and yet as downright odd and wonderful as ‘Pea’?
And as if that isn’t enough, there’s the mammoth, epic ass- whooping of the track ‘One Hot Minute’ itself – which I would strongly put forward as one of the Chili Peppers’ all-time best songs.
And… sorry, but ‘Deep Kick’ might be RHCP’s best ever song.
The album – like a number of significant records being released around that time – was surrounded by difficulty, personal problems and other concerns; which all may have effected it. I remember reading that, during breaks from recording, Anthony Kiedis would pop over to the studio where R.E.M were recording their Monster album and they would hang out; Michael Stipe was, according to the stories, still very raw from his friend Cobain’s death at that point in time and it heavily effected the Monster album.
Anthony Kiedis, despite having been sober for over five years at that time, had fallen back into heroin and cocaine addiction in 1994, and this clearly influenced some of his lyrics and themes on the album. Flea later told GQ that Anthony would disappear for weeks at a time, and that the vocal tracks weren’t recorded until a year after the rest of the music had already been laid down.
The album took around 4 years to complete.
This was the only album that Porno For Pyros guitarist Dave Navarro recorded with the band, which is credited by some for the album’s heavier-than-usual sound in places like ‘Warped’ and ‘One Hot Minute’.
There was apparently tension in the unit between Navarro and the others concerning what Navarro wanted to sound like and what the rest of the band wanted to sound like.
The ever brilliant Flea also stepped in to begin contributing to some of the lyrics, including on ‘Transcending’, which was his tribute to the actor River Phoenix (Flea had been present in Johnny Depp’s Viper Room club the night River Phoenix died there).
For the first time, Flea also took vocal duties, chiefly on the track ‘Pea’, which remains one of the Chili Peppers’ oddest and most endearing songs to date. Consisting of only bass and vocal, it is an oddly quiet, yet lyrically aggressive, song that has the most attitude of any track.
It appears to be a fuck you to jocks, rednecks and the macho male stereotypes, and the lyrics get angrier the more the song progresses. ‘Pea’ is a delight.
‘Aeroplane’ is Chili Peppers’ in pure soul/funk mode and is pretty addictive, though the upbeat, friendly vibe of the song somewhat masks some of the more serious, dark lyrics. The song also featured Flea’s daughter Clara and her kindergarten class singing backing vocals on the last chorus. This is laid-back, soulful Chilli Peppers at their best.
It is quite difficult to talk of any major ‘alternative’ album being released in 1994/95 without some reference to the death of Kurt Cobain, which seemed to cast its shadow over the entire music scene. ‘Tearjerker’ on One Hot Minute was directly a tribute to Cobain, which Kiedis later described as “an emotional blow. And we all felt it. I don’t why everyone on earth felt so close to that guy.” Kiedis would also reference Cobain in subsequent lyrics in later songs too.
As a group of songs on the whole, the album maybe isn’t as consistent as the more highly-regarded Chilli Peppers’ records; but it has its magic moments. Again, the track ‘One Hot Minute’ itself is a monster of a song, as epic and large sounding as anything the Chilli Peppers have ever done. It still has elements of the signature funk vibes, but it also is heavier and thicker than we’re used to and sounds like something that could’ve been done in collaboration with Soundgarden.
It’s a really full, complete track, and I’ve always been surprised it isn’t regarded as a Chilli Peppers’ standard.
‘My Friends’, the second single, is also one of the most overtly beautiful songs the band has ever produced, with its plaintive lyrics and Anthony’s unpretentious, heart-on-sleeve vocals. Had this song lived on Kalifornication or Blood Sugar Sex Magik and not this album, it would probably be one of their most famous singles: instead it gets largely overlooked, which is a shame.
‘My Friends’ is a single that should be remembered up there with ‘Under the Bridge’.
The music video for ‘My Friends’ was striking, situated on a boat surrounded by water in a surreal, otherwordly aura: I always thought they were wearing way too much make-up and didn’t look real, but I now realise this adds to the surreal vibe of the video and may have been deliberate.
The video was directed by the prolific filmmaker, photographer and artist Anton Corbijn, who also directed Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ video, among many others, and the Ian Curtis/Joy Division movie Closer.
The rest of the record arguably doesn’t age as well as the aforementioned tracks; but even ‘One Big Mob’ is fairly addictive, while the laconic, chilled ‘Walkabout’ is one of the Chilli Peppers’ most effortlessly cool moments.
One Hot Minute was a commercial disappointment in the context of the Chili Peppers’ stature; it sold fewer than half as many copies as Blood Sugar Sex Magik and it didn’t garner as much critical acclaim. For a number of bands, this might’ve been a career derailing moment; but the Chilli Peppers came back with Kalifornication four years later and became possibly the biggest, most widely loved, American act in the world.
From that point on, One Hot Minute was largely forgotten by most people – and, if set-lists are an indicator, then by the band too; but it shouldn’t have been. It’s still an interesting, engaging and endearing record, with some true treasures on it.
The last time I saw Chilli Peppers in concert – which was actually way back in, I think, 2002 or 2003 in London – I remember being seriously disappointed that they didn’t play anything from One Hot Minute.
I mean, I could get them not doing so now, three or four more albums down the line in their career; but back then, One Hot Minute was still recent enough to have been referenced in concert. And it wasn’t. Not that the show wasn’t great in any case; I just wished some of these songs could’ve featured.
It is difficult to put my finger on why One Hot Minute holds a special place for me as far as Chili Peppers’ albums go. Some of it might be sentimental and related to the specific time it was released in; I was only 15 when this came out – I had been waiting four years between ‘Under the Bridge’/Blood Sugar Sex Magik and the next album (which when you’re 11 and then 15, respectively, is a very long time). I had been excited for the new RHCP album, so I think I treasured and devoured it in a very adolescent way when it came out.
The album artwork by Mark Ryden also always captured my imagination, and is, I think, one of the best album covers there is.
But moreover, I still think it’s just a really cool album. It’s also unique in the RHCP discography because it’s the only album with Navarro on it – adding a distinctive element or ingredient that doesn’t exist on other RHCP albums.
If you’ve never heard this album, you should definitely give it some consideration.
And if you’re a Chilli Peppers ‘fan’ who has ‘skipped’ this record… well, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about your life choices.