Albums That Resonate: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Here at FtH we have done a few shows that highlight our love of music. You may know that I have an affinity for the conceptual sci fi storytelling and prog metal stylings of Coheed and Cambria, while Vinnie cries himself to sleep whilst listening to Jimmy Buffet warble on about meat sandwhiches. Oh, and how can I forget Jon, he of the pirate shanties and hillbilly jug band fandom. Despite our difference in opinion on what music we like, we all agree on the fact that music is important to all of us. This article is about an album that has over the course of the last 25 years woven itself into the DNA that makes me, well me. This is all about the fifth album by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
The early 90’s was definetly a time of musical discovery for me, as I was shedding my phase of reading Metal Edge magazine and listening to the bands that populated the articles within, such as Poison and Ratt. I tired of what essentially was catchy music where the the focus laid more on the hot girls in the videos and the band’s fashion styles. I had several groups of friends in high school, and one such group was the longhaired musicians. These guys were where I went when I wanted to hear the next best thing, as they somehow had already heard it and had the band shirt to wear proudly in 4th period Astronomy class. Red Hot Chili Peppers had been popular amongst these guys, and I heard them described as a fun, funky skate rock band that played shows naked with nothing but socks on their..yeah. I saw the video for their cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground when MTV still played videos, or had anything to do with music, not pregnant teens. Apart from that, I ordered their then current album on cassette, Mother’s Milk, as a part of my initial 12 tapes for a penny deal through that great gateway to music, Columbia House. That was kind of it though, as I never really got too deep into that record until later. In the start of my junior year of high school, I had seen the odd, black and white video for the first single off of their upcoming album, a reggae tinged bit of rock called Give It Away. My interest was tickled
I remember the night I bought the new album, again on tape. October of 1991, and as my friends and I would often do, we took a trip to the mall, with the routine stop at the record store. There in the new release secion on the wall, I found my purchase for the night. It drew me in with it’s cover design, the four band members faces, layed out like the bearings on a compass, tribal art tongues jutting out and meeting at the middle. The background was a silver color, and the lettering on the spine with band and album title jumped out as the words were printed in reds and whites. As memory serves, we got home and watched Dances With Wolves that night, and since that film was just shy of nine hours long, I did not get to dig into my newest addition to my cassette collection until the next morning. It’s amazing that I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I can remember the exact night I saw a movie a quarter of a century ago. Anyways, the next morning I got up, and as it was a Saturday and I was free from school, I unwrapped the packaging and jammed the tape into my stereo system kept in my bedroom. Listening to the album for the first time, I was immedietly taken by the sounds I was hearing. Combined with liner photos of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante showing off their extensive tattoo collection, I knew I wanted to know more about this band. Over the next few years, I became a megafan, seeing a once small garage funk/rock band slowly earn a spot amongst the largest stadium rock bands in the world. I have enjoyed all phases of this group’s career, yet this record will always be my favorite, as it embodies a time in my life when I was gaining my own identity as a music fan, and I can truly call this album mine. Sure it’s not only mine, but it’s mine nonetheless.
Yes we have discussed the experiences around procuring the album,and my discovery of the band, but what exactly clicked for me musically? What has engrained it so deeply in my brain that I still regularly listen to it all these years later? Here is a track by track breakdown of the 17 songs found on Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
1. The Power Of Equality- Started with Frusciante’s chickenscratch guitar riff and Kiedis counting the track off with a hey batter, swing chant, this is a classic album opener. Many of Kiedis’ lyrics come across as stream of consciousness nonesense, but this song is clear in message. Black, white, whatever race or creed, equality is a must. Especially poignant seeing that in less than a year from release of the album the Rodney King verdict would tear the Pepper’s hometown of L.A. in pieces.
2. If You Have To Ask- In the groove funk riffs hall of fame, and a nasty guitar solo/organ outro to boot. Who cares if I still don’t get what it’s about lyrically. The words flow magically and thats good enough for me.
3. Breaking The Girl- Wow, a melodic ballad like song. From the guys who a few albums back brought you a song declaring they wanted to party on your…ok, so some nice growth. The rhythmic percussion bit in the end was achieved by all four band members banging on car rims and the radiator in the house they recorded in. That is a whole story unto itself, as the album was created while Kiedis, Frusciante and Flea lived in a storied mansion in the Hollywod Hills. Supposedly haunted, Smith would commute daily to record his parts to avoid any poltergeist activity.
4. Funky Monks- One of the great bass driven songs in RHCP history. Smith and Flea had hardened the chemistry they displayed on Mother’s Milk, their first record together into a true cohesive partnership. Also the title of the video documentary chronicaling the making of the album.
5. Suck My Kiss- Frusciante lays down crunchy riffs on what can be described as a hard rock salute to Kiedis’ libido.
6. I Could Have Lied- Unlike Breaking The Girl, a true ballad, driven by acoustic guitar. Straying from lyrics centered around sex, this comes across as a lament over a broken love. After two slower songs in the first six, this acts as a break setting up the next three songs hard return to driving funk.
7. Mellowship Slinky In B Major- One of my favorites. Pure groove, supported by a nice piano riff and a sick Frusciante solo. Kiedis is at his lyrically oddest here, calling out Robert DeNiro, pink umbrellas and a few other of his favorite things. The outro after the last verse is a nice slice of heaviness.
8. The Righteous And The Wicked- Anti war song written during Desert Shield/Storm days. Flea and Frusciante’s background vocals have always been a high point, and are featured heavily in the chorus of this hard rocking track.
9. Give It Away- Reggae dipped jam featuring a guitar solo recorded normally but played back backwards. Flea’s bass is all over the verses on this. “Drinking my juice, your love chugalug me” remains a personal favorite of weird RHCP lyrics.
10. Blood Sugar Sex Magik- The title track starts with a simple drum beat, and layers an affected guitar over it. Very driving, Kiedis’ talk style on the verses gives his voice a new depth. Guitar drowns out the bass on this one, showcasing Frusciante’s growing skill and place in the band.
11. Under The Bridge- Kiedis wrote a poem about his days as a heroin addict. Rick Rubin, producing his first of what would be six records for the band read it and convinced him to adapt it into song form. A truly personal song, and powerful at that. The choir vocals on the chorus are chilling, and knowing that Kiedis would fall back into addiction a few years later is sad.
12. Naked In The Rain- Ok, what can we do to bring the mood up after Under The Bridge? A driving funk song about tasting the salt on a killer whale’s tail. Yeah, enough said.
13. Apache Rose Peacock- A song about New Orleans. Great groove, some trumpet played by Flea, and just a good time. Oh and an out of left field metal riff outro that kicks my teeth in every time I hear it.
14. The Greeting Song- Speaking of metal, a straightforward song about chicks and cars. Frusciante ditches funk for heaviness. In all honesty I love this song, but would have preferred if Soul To Squeeze, originally recorded during these sessions was used on the record. Luckily, that song found life as a single from The Coneheads soundtrack. I consider this the low point of the record, and that says a ton, as I still think it’s damn good.
15. My Lovely Man- The groove pocket that the entire band find on this song is deep. A tribute to deceased guitarist Hillel Slovak, this sets up the next song perfectly, as once you get funky like this, the only place to go is next level.
16. Sir Psycho Sexy- Another favorite. Kiedis displays his freak of nature alter ego on a seven plus minute tear. The sexual crudeness of the lyrics and the pounding drive of the song do not prepare you for Frusciante’s melodic coda, over two minutes of what equates to a break and transformation from the rest of the song.
17. They’re Red Hot- A quick last song, a cover of blues legend Robert Johnson. Just for fun, but a nice touch.
2016 and the eleventh album from RHCP is due before year’s end. Kiedis, Smith and Flea remain from this lineup. Frusciante quit in 1992 amidst an epic battle with drugs and returned clean in 1998, before leaving again in 2009 to move onto different projects.