The Red Hot Chili Peppers have become the most universal rock band in the world inasmuch as no one actively dislikes them. They have their devoted legion of fans, yes, but the majority of people on this planet will use the fact that they occasionally listen to “Scar Tissue” to justify that they listen to rock music. At the most extreme end of the fandom Richter Scale, there are those who know every single b-side and unreleased song the band has ever recorded. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who think they’re just alright; they like a few songs but nothing that would get them to listen to an entire album. The Chili Peppers are not a polarizing band; a lot of people love them, but most people like them. For rock bands, there are worse fates in life.
Regardless of whether you know the track list of Stadium Arcadium by heart — or if you really think their drummer is Will Ferrell — there is one thing that anyone who’s ever even heard of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have in common. Everybody hates One Hot Minute, their 1995 follow up to the mega-hit Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Not only do most fans detest or ignore its existence, even the band tries to distance itself from it, despite the few murmurs from fans begging to hear “Aeroplane” or “Warped” played live for the first time in nearly 20 years. The reason why people have these negative or, worse, apathetic feelings towards One Hot Minute isn’t because of what it is, but because of what it’s not. It’s not Blood Sugar Sex Magik, nor is it as good as its predecessor; it’s not fun and radio-friendly, and it sure as hell isn’t John Frusciante on the guitar. Instead of focusing on what it is and what it represented for the band back in 1995, critics and fans alike dismissed it for not being what they wanted, even though there is a ton of hidden gems on the album.
Because the album as a whole is overlooked, the big singles have become rarities of sorts. “Aeroplane”, the biggest and most accessible single from the album, is the only acceptable song to like on the album, even though everyone who’s heard it secretly loves it. “Aeroplane”, with its deceptive veneer of happiness, is a prime example of everything this album wasn’t supposed to be. In truth, One Hot Minute is a dark, brooding album steeped in pain, addiction, and despair. And for this reason, if for no other, One Hot Minute is a beautiful album.
Songs such as the opener “Warped” and the closing track “Transcending” are amongst the band’s heaviest, a direct result from Navarro’s psychedelic and hard rock influence. The former song deals with frontman Anthony Kiedis’ relapse into heroin after years of sobriety, while the latter song deals with the pain caused from the death of River Phoenix, a close friend of the band. “Warped” takes you on a trip, exactly as it should because the mellow intro and outro which sandwich the heavy metal meat and bones of the song is used to simulate a drug trip. “Transcending” is quite possibly Chad Smith’s best drumming of his 25 year career with the band, and the drum fill at the end will quite literally knock the wind out of you. They’re both great song — the problem though is that they’re songs that no one expected nor wanted this particular band to write. What people don’t understand is that in the midst of personal troubles such as drugs, divorces, and depression, One Hot Minute was the only album this band could have made.
For an album that departs so far from their own patented alt-funk/punk sound, the funk is still there, present on such tracks as “Aeroplane”, “One Big Mob”, and “Walkabout”. Flea is still the bass whisperer that he’s always been, which is most prevalent on “Coffee Shop”, coming complete with his very own bass solo. The ballads, the secret success of the band, occupy pivotal roles on the album, and even though they may not be as accessible or transcendent as those on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, “My Friends” and “Tearjerker” don’t disappoint. This all comes from Kiedis’ modest sincerity as he laments the loneliness he feels from John Frusciante’s exit and Kurt Cobain’s death the previous year.
Yes, Navarro influenced the musical direction of the album, making it more of a heavy metal and psychedelic album, but it’s the only sound that could have conveyed where the band was back in 1995. It was the perfect genre to express who they had become as individuals; One Hot Minute is a response to Blood Sugar Sex Magik and its enormity.
The real MVP of the album, however, is the unsung Chad Smith, who absolutely cuts his real drumming skill loose. For those who consider Smith one of the greatest drummers of all time, all the evidence needed can be found on One Hot Minute. The way he keeps a groove going, and the fact that he does it all the while playing heavier and harder beats, is nothing short of miraculous. “Warped” and “Transcending” and even the sacrilegious “Shallow be Thy Game” wouldn’t be half as good as they are had it been anyone else behind the drum kit. One Hot Minute is the album that Smith, originally a hard rock drummer, always wanted to make, and he made the most of this opportunity.
One Hot Minute is reviled for what it’s not, when it should, in fact, be respected for not only what it means and the feelings it displays, but for the way in which it’s presented. This isn’t a fun album because it wasn’t a fun time for the band. And when Anthony Kiedis refuses to sing “Aeroplane” it’s because it reminds him of all those bad times. One Hot Minute is a sad album, and ultimately that’s why it is scorned, but it is a successful sad album that summed up where the band was at that point.
The Chili Peppers needed One Hot Minute, even if they don’t know it, or won’t accept it. The album was not only catharsis, but also a wake-up call that Kiedis needed to get clean and that they needed former guitarist John Frusciante back. It’s no masterpiece, as there are some weak cuts like the forgettable “Falling Into Grace” and the Flea-sung “Pea”, but it’s an album that they needed to get past before embarking on their future. Without One Hot Minute, there is no Californication. And sometimes, before you can dream of californication, you have to live through a nightmare, even if that nighmare lasts only for one hot minute.