Release Year: 1995
This album is often considered the black sheep in the Chili Peppers’ catalog. A change in sound, guitarist, and lack of sales made this their least successful album. Some call it their worst so far. But is it really that bad? Is it possible the critics were wrong or that fans were too harsh on Dave Navarro’s metal influenced guitar style? Wanting to find out for myself, I delved into the shaky album and found out it was more enjoyable than I expected it to be.
After the success of the band’s previous LP Blood Sugar Sex Magik, guitarist John Frusciante became frustrated with their new found fame and quit the band. The Chili Peppers picked Dave Navarro to fill his shoes, which in turned changed the band’s sound. A lot of the songs are more on the heavy metal side, such as “Deep Kick” and the title track. While it works well on “Shallow Be They Game,” where Navarro’s wild riffs are mixed with the band’s original funky style, often his playing comes across as noisy and rough for no reason. On “Coffee Shop” the guitars are rough and dirty, but so loud it washes everything out. “Deep Kick” features wild, blazing guitar solos from Navarro that try to showcase his talent, but come off as trying too hard and too dull. Though he remains a talented musician, he just wasn’t a good fit for the band.
Another reason the album is cited as their worst is how disjointed everything sounds and it’s true. The opening track “Warped” sounds promising with in your face guitars and high energy punk rock, but the vocals are so distracting. Kiedis’ voice is looped over itself and has an echo effect that makes him sound like he’s under water. It makes everything confusing and it’s too difficult to ignore. “One Big Mob” is another track that starts off well with spastic energy and a return to Kiedis’ rapping that makes listeners think of their earlier material. Even though the chorus of “One big mob/aw yea aw yea” sounds like it’s ripped from a bad hip hop song, it was still good until the bridge where everything gets psychedelic. The music slows down, the vocals get soft, and everything sounds trippy before returning to the hard sound. It’s so unexpected and doesn’t work with the track. Most of the songs on the LP continue in this fashion: the songs start off strong, but then abruptly change in another direction, which isn’t a good fit. This same problem is found on HIM’s Venus Doom.
While those opening songs spelled bad things for the album, there are actually a number of good tracks. Few of them can be considered as strong or stronger than anything they’ve done before or since, but it’s not all bad for the LP. The somber “My Friends,” which address Kiedis’ concerns with himself at the time, is a mellow number that finds the singer sounding vulnerable and wounded. The opening line sets the depressed and defeated tone of the song: “My friends are so depressed/I feel the question of your loneliness.” Oddly enough, some of the music reminded me of their later track “Scar Tissue,” which is better than this one in my opinion. “Walkabout” is a return to the funktastic sound the band so cherishes. While the lyrics aren’t remarkable, the music has Flea’s insane bass slapping dripping all over it making for an irresistible groove. It’s the music that keeps your attention throughout the whole song. “Tearjerker” is a sweet ballad about the death of Kurt Cobain, while “Transcending” is a return to the psychedelic sound. The music is soft and puts you at ease; it definitely has the “free love” vibe. Midway through the mood is interrupted by sludgy hard rock, but it’s not too distracting.
One downfall of the album is Kiedis himself. During this time, he resumed his previous drug habit he kicked causing the songwriting to slow down. You can also tell he’s not on point with his vocals. Plenty of the songs featured weird gang vocals, like “Deep Kick,” where everyone sounds wasted, and it seems like it was an attempt to cover up Kiedis’ shortcomings. There are moments when his voice shines, like on “Aeroplane,” but there are other times where his voice isn’t as strong as it usually is. His songwriting took a hit too. Whereas the previous album was full of witty retorts and clever wordplay, the lyrics here are forgettable. None stick out as being clever or cheeky.
It’s definitely not the best Chili Peppers’ album, but it’s not as terrible as history has made it out to be. Yes, Dave Navarro was not a good fit for the band and yes, a lot of the music is disjointed and disorienting, but there are actually a number of songs that aren’t bad. Oddly enough, these are the ones that play to the band’s funk side, but they’re still good nonetheless. Most of the songs suffered from starting out strong and then abruptly changing midway through. The album has a lot of problems sure, but that doesn’t mean there’s no enjoyment to be had from it.