Give It Away
Red Hot Chili Peppers Albums Ranked Worst To Best
by Benjamin Ray
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984)
An inauspicious beginning, to be sure. Not much else sounded like this in 1983, and maybe that's a good thing, but Flea was already a master at his instrument and the basic seeds of the band – for better and worse – were on display. The weakest link by far is Anthony Kiedis, who is pretty darn embarrassing here.
9. Freaky Styley (1985)
Not much of an improvement over the debut, but an important step that reinforces the band's punk and funk roots and showed that they were trying to blend something that really hadn't been done before. The band's antics, Kiedis' nonsense lyrics, and their eventual oversaturation would overshadow their actual musical contributions. This one isn't really worth the time, but it is a necessary part of their development.
8. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)
While still not a great album, this is the best of the trilogy that opened the band's career, namely because of its self-assurance and eclecticism and proof that the band had talent, not just noise and anatomical sock tricks. It would have been interesting to see where Slovak helped take the band from here, but it was not to be, as he died from an overdose shortly after.
7. I'm With You (2011)
I understand that Hillel Slovak was the original guitarist, but John Frusciante remains the quintessential RHCP axe-slinger, bringing a lyricism and power that the band had been missing and that catapulted them to commercial success. When Frusciante left for the second time, things didn't look good, a fact confirmed by this album. Although Josh Klinghoffer tries mightily, the mix pushes him to the back in favor of the other three, and most the songs are unenergetic, pale imitations of far better efforts. A few gems come in the form of the pounding "Monarchy Of Roses," the lovely "Brendan's Death Song" and "Goodbye Hooray," while "The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie" is basically Flea playing lead bass while Klinghoffer sets a Guinness World Record for Minimum Amount of Time a Guitarist can Appear on a Track While Still Technically Being a Band Member. Here's hoping the new album allows Klinghoffer to show what he can bring.
6. One Hot Minute (1995)
Topping Blood Sugar Sex Magik would have been impossible, so the band toured and put out some very good soundtrack songs around this time ("Soul To Squeeze" and "Sikamikaniko"), but it proved too much for Frusciante and the guitarist left the band. In a druggy haze, the band hired Dave Navarro (of the recently-deceased Jane's Addiction) and recorded this one, which is harder and funkier than Blood and not nearly as good. "My Friends" was a hit alt-rock ballad, even though it's not a great song, but "Aeroplane" brings a psychedelic side the band had only hinted at before. Much of this just kind of sits there in a haze, hinting at the band's mental state at the time, making the moments that pop ("One Big Mob," "Coffee Shop," "Transcending") that much better, simply because the emphasis on hard rock over funk and pop makes this the band's least fun album (and opener "Warped" is one of their worst songs ever, with "Pea" pretty close to the bottom). Of course, this version of the band also recorded the fun cover of "Love Rollercoaster" in 1996, so it's interesting to hear what could have been if Navarro had been allowed to grow the way Frusicante had.
5. Mother's Milk (1989)
New guitar player John Frusciante arrives and brings a more hard rock and less punk-funk direction to the band. Because the songwriting was still focused on the latter, this album doesn't quite hold together, but the expert cover of "Higher Ground" made some people take notice, "Johnny Kick A Hole In The Sky" was an ambitious epic (for these guys, anyway), "Pretty Little Ditty" showed a melodicism not present before, and "Knock Me Down" is a fine alt-rock single worth rediscovering. This sets the stage for the band's major breakthrough, but it's a pretty good record on its own.
4. Californication (1999)
I was in high school when the band roared back to life with Frusciante and a string of four hits off this immensely popular disc. Sobriety paid off handsomely on slower songs like "Scar Tissue," the cynical title son, the travelogue "Road Trippin'" and Otherside," but Flea still delivered on "Around The World" (a killer choice for opening track) and "Purple Stain," which is a blast musically and horrendous lyrically (so, the usual). A pop-music approach to the production ensured this was a palatable alternative to Britney Spears and Smash Mouth, and it introduced a new group of people to the band that many only knew from "Under The Bridge." Unfortunately, the middle section of the album is pretty mundane ("Emit Remmus," "I Like Dirt," and "This Velvet Glove," specifically), but the Peppers were back, and this is a solid pop-rock album.
3. Stadium Arcadium (2006)
This was my album of the year in 2006, and Rolling Stone had it pretty far up their list as well, as I recall. Ten years on, the scope of this double disc is still impressive, and Frusicante – in what would be his last album with the band - is resolutely the star, busting out an impressive array of solos, riffs and guitar tones, always able to set a mood for each song. Kiedis continues to let his vulnerability shine through, Flea is both heroic and humble and the songwriting is emotional and solid throughout. The second disc is probably a little stronger, but both have more hits than misses, including album cuts like "Especially In Michigan," "Death Of A Martian," "Tell Me Baby," "Hump De Bump" (which is better than it sounds), "Charlie," and the hits "Dani California," and "Snow (Hey Oh)." As with any double disc effort, one can point to at least six songs that could have been trimmed with no loss to the world, but longtime fans of the band will find a lot to celebrate here, and it probably stands as the band's magnum opus, although not their best album.
2. By The Way (2002)
Anthony Kiedis was always a formidable practitioner of bullshit, but in 2002 he had grown past this persona. So, too, had the songwriting, and By The Way is an astonishing, well-written album that plays to the band's newfound strengths while forgoing some of the stuff they had grown out of. "By The Way" introduced the album with an expected killer bass performance from Flea, but the bulk of the album traded in ballads or melancholy midtempo rockers that would not have been possible in the '90s. "The Zephyr Song" is understated and lovely, Kiedis and Frusciante's high-pitched harmonies on "Dosed" are unlike anything they had attempted, Frusciante's jangly Latin-inspired playing on "Cabron" is a revelation and songs like "Minor Thing," "Throw Away Your Television" and "Universally Speaking" all show that this group of spastic party animals had turned into musicians...and men. The best song, though, is the closing "Venice Queen," which begins as a psychedelic rocker and then transitions into a driving acoustic-guitar number that never lets up on the energy, set to lyrics that pay homage to someone named Gloria; I don't know for sure, but it seems to be a tribute to a rehab center worker who helped an addict (Kiedis? Frusciante?) turn his life around by being tough, fair, and friendly in equal measures. It's one of the few times that the Peppers showed who they really are, and it brings this record to a tremendous finish.
1. Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
It took one album for John Frusciante to find his groove within the band, and then in 1991 the band holed up in a California mansion to focus on recording this album (and do some other things). The black-and-white documentary Funky Monks shows some insight into the recording, including the outside musicians and family members brought in to do background percussion and vocals on "Breaking The Girl," and it's a fun little piece for big fans of the band. For the first time, the band also found a producer (Rick Rubin, of course) who really clarified their funk-rap-rock attack better than their '80s output, and the resulting effort is a brilliant, energetic masterwork.
A newfound maturity, of all things, rears its head on the subdued "I Could Have Lied," "Breaking The Girl" and the Slovak elegy "My Lovely Man," while the subtleties of "Under The Bridge" showed a depth in songwriting and an honest look at how someone can get addicted to drugs that never glamorizes it. On the flip side, the breathless, pile driving "Give It Away" is as fun as this band ever got, and the other songs are all chunky funk-rock that entertain to varying levels of success ("Naked In The Rain" is an underrated album cut), but all with confidence and attitude. The Peppers would go on to sound more sophisticated and pop-friendly, but they never again matched the mix of bravado, power, subtlety, and party-hearty attitude they perfected here. To put it bluntly, it's one of the best albums of the decade.