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by Lars Janssen
Just a few weeks after its release, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' new album, "Californication", has sailed into the UK Top 10 and gained platinum status.
No surprise there. They are a band you oughta know already, having performed with Alanis Morrisette and featured on several movie soundtracks and their classic "Under The Bridge" inspired an unlikely cover version from girl-band All Saints last year.
The 90s have bestowed a succession of highly acclaimed albums on the Chili Peppers, and in return the band has given their fans some spectacular wild 'n' raunchy shows in a punk-funk-rock style which befits their Californian origins. Their shows rarely lack in visual elements from the surreal, dressed as light bulbs, to their unabashed, nearly nude 'cocks in socks' routine for which they are best known.
It has been a long and treacherous road to success, winding all the way back to 1978. On the way they've endured tour cancellations, poor album sales in the early days and changed their line-up more often than Madonna changes her image.
Initially the band were Los Faces, formed at Fairfax High School in LA with Anthony Kiedis (vocals), Michael Balzary, better known as Flea (bass guitar), Hillel Slovak (guitar) and Jack Irons (drums). It was another five years before the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as we know them, started to make a name for themselves in the clubs of LA.
A record deal with EMI ensued, but their self-titled debut album failed to make an impact and featured only two of the initial members of the band. Slovak and Irons were temporarily replaced by Cliff Martinez and Jack Sherman, on guitar and drums respectively. Funk star George Clinton produced their second album "Freaky Styley", but commercial success remained elusive.
"The Uplift Mofo Party Plan" was their first real break. Not a massive hit, this album was nevertheless filled with enough energy to make a small dent on the US Billboard chart. Meanwhile, the cover of their Abbey Road EP, released in 1988, was a remake of the classic Beatles album sleeve - but with the band wearing only carefully placed socks.
They suffered a terrible tragedy that same year when guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose. The others were understandably devastated, and in the aftermath Jack Irons left.
After some temporary replacements that summer, things settled down again in 1989. They found a new guitarist in the form of John Frusciante, a former fan, and drummer Chad Smith whose mental, aggressive playing style won over Flea. The resulting album, "Mothers Milk" was a again a bigger hit than its predecessor, and with a changed attitude to drugs, the Red Hot Chili Peppers could finally put their difficulties behind them.
Spurred on by this success, they moved to a mansion in Hollywood Hills to record a new album. They had a new record deal too, this time with WEA. It was undoubtedly a turning point - "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" was a roaring success, including the hits "Give It Away" and "Under The Bridge".
Throughout the 1990s they have toured extensively and after a long wait in 1995 released "One Hot Minute", which made a valiant attempt at living up to the success of the previous release, shooting to straight Number 2 in the UK charts and Number 4 at home in the USA. Though not quite an institution, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had firmly established themselves as one of rocks big names.
In the latter half of this decade, it has been soundtrack-mania for the Chili Peppers, with contributions for "Twister" and "Beavis And Butthead Do America", while Flea and Dave collaborated with Porno For Pyros to make the soundtrack for "Private Parts" (also featuring Chad Smith and LL Cool J on one track).
Life on the road suffered a few hiccups when Anthony Kiedis was involved in a motorcycle accident and shattered his wrist. The incident forced their shows in Hawaii, Alaska and Las Vegas to be rescheduled three times before eventually being cancelled altogether. Another show, at Mt. Fuji, Japan, was cut short when a typhoon threatened to blow the whole thing apart.
1998 saw what has so far been the latest change in line-up, as Dave Navarro left on amicable terms to pursue his own solo band, Spread. This time, John Frusciante has returned to the fold after a six-year break and the band is as close to stability as their wild, rock 'n' roll image permits.
In any case, nothing could deter these guys now, and with their new single "Scar Tissue" firmly lodged in the charts and radio playlists around the globe, hopes are high for their latest offering "Californication".