Red Hot Chili Peppers: Pop Geniuses, or a Disgrace to Rock?

With the band's tenth album out next week, we battle over their legacy. 

By Alex Heigl and Dustin Bird

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are terrible

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' journey from goof-offs to elder statesmen of rock has been a long and checkered one, and say what you want about them, they're a truly successful and influential band at this point. Which is unfortunate, because they are terrible. Their career can roughly be divided into two chunks: the chunk in which they gleefully pickpocketed funk music even as its corpse was still cooling, and their time as tattooed representatives of '90s alternativeness. Neither could be called artistically successful.

The band's first record sounds like Tom Tom Club and the Butthole Surfers jamming together, and I don't mean that in a good way. It's an echo-laden mess of thin production and Anthony Kiedis's obnoxious vocal mugging. (Oh, and there's slap bass. Did you know that? You will, because it's every RHCP fan's defense of the band's musical validity. "Dude, Flea!" I get it, he plays bass pretty well and bops around onstage. Cool.) 

Listen: "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes"

 

RHCP spent three albums mining the same territory, which boils down to this: Funkadelic-plundering electric guitar, slap bass, and Keidis's rhythmic talking, which I will not dignify with the word "rap." Aside from some truly noxious sexual imagery ("There's a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen"), what blows me away listening to these records again for the first time since I was thirteen is how bad of a singer Keidis is: I mean, he wouldn't sound terrible singing around a campfire or at karaoke, but for an ostensible pro, his voice is limited and thin, and his habit of skipping from note to note sounds almost like yodeling at times.

RHCP took the over-amped sexuality of the Ohio Players and P-Funk and made it dumber.

As for Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which to many people remains the band's "definitive moment," it really boils down to one thing: John Frusciante. The admittedly talented Frusciante took Hillel Slovak's squalling metal-influenced guitar work and slimmed it down, leaving the Hendrix influence, but smoothing the band's overall sound in the process. But even in a beautiful guitar masterpiece like "Under the Bridge," you still have to content with Keidis's eighth-grade poetry.

Speaking of the lyrics, one of most distasteful things about RHCP is their frat-boy sexuality. This is on full display on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, from "Give It Away" to "Sir Psycho Sexy," the latter of which sounds like a Penthouse Forum letter collided with a dictionary of early '90s douchebag slang. (The former also features a jaw harp twanging away in the background, presumably in an attempt to make Kiedis's voice more musical by comparison.) 

Listen: "Sir Psycho Sexy"

 

Absent for a while, Frusciante returned for Californication, the band's first album in four years. His heroin habit cost him his chops, but his guitar never weeped so gently as on "Scar Tissue" and the title track, unfortunately marred by some truly awful mp3-era mastering. Californication went platinum five times in the U.S. alone and saw RHCP remake themselves as a kindler, gentler (read: boring-er) band, a trend they would follow with the narcoleptic By The Way and the bloated mess of Stadium Arcadium.

RHCP took the over-amped sexuality of the Ohio Players and P-Funk and made it dumber, partially by stripping away George Clinton's political messages, partially by virtue of having a ponytailed pretty-boy write lyrics. Frusciante's presence elevated their work somewhat through the second act of their career, but now that he's gone, he doesn't seem like he was ever enough. — Alex Heigl

Commentarium (68 Comments)

Aug 26 11 - 1:26am
matthew

I hate RHCP. Here's why: take any one of their songs and listen to the first four bars - you can extrapolate the rest of the song from it. That's not good. That's boring. Each member of RHCP is individually talented: Flea's a great bassist, the guitarist is always good. But when you add them up, you get tedium. It's fucking tedious listening to a RHCP song. Especially anything from the Californication album (oh, haha RHCP, you saw that California shares a syllable with fornication - you're so goddamn clever)

Aug 26 11 - 4:56am
blahblah

wow, you're so bitter. did Anthony Kiedis sleep with you and never called you again?

Aug 26 11 - 12:44pm
jamminontheone

matthew, i get that you don't dig the repetition. however, james brown, p-funk, etc. laid the groundwork of heavy repetition and did it to death. that said, you can't count out rhcp, just the majority of their catalog.

Aug 26 11 - 1:03pm
jcruel

That's patently absurd. There is nothing repetitive about james brown. He is the master of the change up. His music is poly rhythmic and erratic--it's what makes it so great.

Aug 27 11 - 1:25pm
Rubix

Most of their songs on Stadium Arcadium seem to end in a different place musically than where they started. If there's one complaint about RHCP it should be the lyrics. The goddamn nonsense for the sake of nonsense lyrics.

Aug 29 11 - 3:00pm
Blacktopsurfer2323

I am so bored with RHCP after like one or two songs. They have never made a whole album, that means made an entire album that is cohesive and has an over all feel (unless you count: Too Much Bass as a feeling) if you asked me if I enjoyed listening to "Snow" on the radio (read: Pandora) I would of course say yes. But if you asked me to recite my favorite lyric or name a super RHCP fan that wasn't from South Dakota (believe me there are alot of them) I flat out couldn't. They are are relevent to rock music as Linkin Park or Muse. They are pointless in the overall spectrum of rock music, but they are at least tolerable compared to some other artists over the years.

Mar 04 12 - 7:22pm
Lex

Repetition is the groundwork of funk. It's based in rhythm, not in melody. It's dancing music, primarily. An acquired taste to an extent, although fairly easy to get accustomed to - and love, eventually.

Aug 26 11 - 1:58am
lame

they arent rock, but have been a terrible influence on white people

Aug 26 11 - 12:46pm
jamminontheone

Agree! I saw this band numerous times in smaller venues where they were very good. But they NEVER should have been elevated to stadium status.

Aug 26 11 - 2:34am
ggg

I like them, though I only know about 3 of their songs, so don't know how much my say counts.

Aug 26 11 - 5:43am
JBird

What? No mention of Mother's Milk? Does the kick ass cover of "Higher Ground" knock the sand out of your vagina?
RHCP are overrated and yes, Kiedas can't sing BUT there are so many other bands that came and went that sucked way harder than them.
If you heard the first three albums when they wre released, that's way back in the early 80's kids, you might think differently of them. In a sea of big hair cheese rock fluff metal and the rotting remains of arena rock came these freaks. Naked save for socks on there dicks playing a weird fusion of stolen funk and punk. It was different and that should count.

Aug 26 11 - 12:00pm
eva

Other bands suck harder is damning praise. But really, that's the best thing you can say about them, that at least they're not Nickleback.

Aug 26 11 - 12:47pm
jamminontheone

JBird, agree. It's all context. I saw this band numerous times in smaller venues where they were very good. But they NEVER should have been elevated to stadium status.

Aug 26 11 - 8:37am
Danielle Gibson

What would campfires be without that one guy who knows how to play Under the Bridge with his acoustic guitar?

Aug 26 11 - 12:00pm
eva

An awesome campfire.

Aug 27 11 - 11:20am
@eva

And that's a wrap.

Oct 12 11 - 11:14pm
lol

awesomely true

Aug 26 11 - 9:11am
Kev

I think it's awesome that Will Ferrell has been able to expand from his considerable comedy chops to take up the drums as well. What can't that guy do!

Aug 26 11 - 12:15pm
LAP

Alex Heigl: What are your favorite bands? I get that you have the whole "rip bands that you think are shitty" motif down. Give us something to work with here.

Aug 26 11 - 12:46pm
WTF?

The first time I heard Californication was the last time I listened to RHCP intentionally.
My god that was a shit album.

Jun 04 12 - 9:17pm
JM

Seriously?!?! I've been a fan since way back when, and they're album kept getting better and better... And Californication is by far the best album they made, so quit trolling!!

Aug 26 11 - 12:58pm
LAP

I don't know their early catalog very well; I started listening to them around Blood Sugar Sex Magic. I really dig the musicality of the later stuff. In particular, I think By the Way is a spot on album.

The one criticism I have for their later albums is that they repeat themselves too much. I wish Stadium Arcadium had been a single disc of the best tracks through the whole record. It would have packed more punch that way. Either way, Frusciante is a genius, and it's awesome that he got the band to do his music for so long.

Jun 04 12 - 9:20pm
JM

I don't know why you say they repeat themselves. It may sound the same, but it doesn't have the same feel to it.
If you want an overrated and repetitive piece of shit band, listen to Pink Floyd.

Aug 26 11 - 1:11pm
..::bEEP::..

When I heard the song "Porcelain", I took the CD out and put it back in its' case. The I threw it out the window into the street. What a peice of crap; it sounded the way that hot garbage smells.*foghorn sound*

Aug 26 11 - 7:09pm
JM

Seriously? You probably either need therapy or need to stop exaggerating on the internet.

Aug 26 11 - 2:43pm
Yanqui

I've never had a strong opinion about them. They neither impress or repulse me. They don't have many memorable songs, I will say that. They're not very formidable.

Aug 26 11 - 5:09pm
Jude

Jeesh! What's with the Chili Peppers criticism? You're overanalyzing the band and their music. Why can't we just enjoy the rhythm, the wackiness, and that their shows are fun.

Aug 27 11 - 4:13pm
because..

..they're snobbish hipsters who hate everything because they think it makes them look smarter or more cultured!

Feb 10 12 - 11:47am
Layla

Hey Jude!
I agree with you, just enjoy and listen.
They are great

Aug 26 11 - 5:28pm
part-time cashier

it was good enuf for me in highschool its good enuf for me now fuckdahaterz

Aug 26 11 - 7:01pm
AcneVulgaris

They kind of went to shit after One Hot Minute, but they used to be great.

Jun 04 12 - 9:23pm
JM

You probably were into the Backstreetboys at that time, good for you!!

Aug 26 11 - 10:46pm
Simone

They used to be good before they started to take themselves way too seriously.

Plus, Flea is great and he and Chad do make an amazing rhythm section. Too bad Frusciante is gone.

Aug 26 11 - 11:20pm
Dan

Hmm, it's weird that you say that their first albums sound like they are stealing from P-funk... maybe it's because George Clinton was their producer?

Aug 27 11 - 10:15am
Althea

+1

Aug 27 11 - 5:08am
luke

damn.. how many bullshit can be write in just one page?
such a long time ago they change their style.. and continued to make good music..
the people just need frusciante let go... deal with that... and go write about lady gaga.

Aug 27 11 - 10:26am
Althea

Aside from Anthony's terrible voice/lyrics, the musical quality of the other three members is awesome. Seriously, High Ground is a kick-ass cover. Too bad John left the band, again. Long live Flea! Alex, you were dead on with the article on Eddie Vedder's bastard children, but I think this time around you were off. Saying that an entire band of highly talented musicians sucks just because the singer is so-so is a bit much.

Aug 27 11 - 2:07pm
chicating

I'm pro-Peppers, although I would agree they seem to be thinking they're cosmic lately.

Aug 27 11 - 4:15pm
RHCP

Well this is a polarizing band isn't it! I had a stage a few years ago where I stumbled into the chili's BSSM, then Mother's Milk, then Freaky Styley..and LOVED it. I also rediscovered By the Way, which I actually love even though so many people talk about how boring it was, it still really resonated with me somehow. I can listen to their songs and have it bring me right back to where I was at some other point in time.
But there's a lot of good music out there..sometimes you just have to dig for it..

Aug 27 11 - 11:57pm
MysteryAnon3000

I wish RHCP had broken up and Jane's addiction hadn't.

Feb 10 12 - 11:40am
Jamee

That's embarrassing...
Jane's Addiction? hahah

Feb 10 12 - 11:42am
Leslie

ya, janes addiction is no comparison to rhcp.
rhcp=way better

Aug 28 11 - 9:09pm
Matthew G

I have such a love/hate relationship with the RedHotChiliPeppers. In some regards, the music is pretty catchy and enjoyable (the trailer for the Sons of Anarchy new season has me loving the song "Dani California") The music video is fun, and the song is catchy as hell...

The hate for RHCP is based on Anthony Keidis' habit of just rhyming nonsense words in some songs. Lyrically the music is pretty empty at times, all the while being surrounded by a lush musical landscape. While he's better at it than many artists, it's still as painful as hearing a song in which the writer rhymes ANY PART OF THE SONG with the word "today". (Think about it, how often have you heard a song where they didn't put enough effort into the lyrics and rhymed "hey hey" with "today")

I've long found that I can listen to and enjoy RHCP nonstop for about a week, then bury their CDs back on a shelf and not miss it for another 2 years... and think "ugh" every time I hear their name.

Aug 30 11 - 9:14pm
Flaco

Dead on.

Aug 31 11 - 1:45pm
SW

Can I vote "neither"? They're alright. I don't love every song they've made, but I don't think they're awful. They've made some pretty fun songs.

I'll agree that Kiedis isn't a great vocalist, but he's a decent showman.

Aug 31 11 - 7:44pm
Ariane

Dear Nerve,

This article screams for an editor. If this article actually was edited, you need to fire your editor. In any case, hire someone competent to review your articles. Or at least hire someone who is not a computer to spell check. Geez.

Sincerely,
Someone who thinks this site used to be great and could be again

Sep 01 11 - 6:00pm
Todd Mason

Well, if a friendly acquaintance of mine hadn't been harassed by Kiedis, with the cooperation of the others, and she hadn't refused his bribe to let that slide and he hadn't seen his ass busted in court for a sexual assault misdemeanor, and then successfully sued in civil court (successful in terms of a settlement ensued, as I recall)...then I might let the utter boredom of Kiedis's contribution to this music slide. And the lack of much else of interest in anything they've done musically.

Particularly since his lawyers bothered me at work at the time, trying to find some dirt.

Sep 02 11 - 9:29am
@Todd

cool story bro

Jun 04 12 - 9:31pm
JM

Boo-freakin'-hoo!! How is your vagina feeling right now??

Sep 03 11 - 8:22pm
Yojimbo Slice

BO-ring. Some articles are just pointless. Especially ill-informed and annoyingly written ones. Go back to Brooklyn and put on your twee crap (which is significantly more derivative then the music of RHCP and half as skillfully implemented).

But then again maybe you're not a stereotypical hipster vegan. Maybe you just have a stick up your ass. Maybe both? Whatever, this is the last time I read one of this websites stupid music write ups. The sex articles are all better anyway. If I wanted to hear amateurish musical diatribes I'd hang out next to my old middle school.

Oct 06 11 - 4:01am
Ferrell

Is it me or does the drummer looks like Will Ferrell..

Nov 26 11 - 5:13pm
micr.d.t

RHCP bring me out in a rash. I hate them

Jan 30 12 - 3:40pm
Tim H

RHCP sucks. Same song written since the early 90's. Even RHCP fans know it. Too proud to admit it??? Fine, keep buying their boring, talentless, over played, shitty, pointless, horrible albums. Keep buying tickets to what I would imagine being a boring show.
Flea fans: He is NOT talented. I'm telling you right now he is a horrible bassist. I'm ashamed to even call their ranting about California "music". No one can argue with me because these are stone cold facts.

Jun 04 12 - 9:42pm
JM

Seriously?!?! I am a fan and I can assure that the songs they right don't even compare from one to the other. If you actually listen to EVERY SONG and not just the singles you hear on the radio, then you're just an ignorant and oblivious A-hole!!
I saw them live and it was the best show I ever saw!! You can't compare their live performances to their recorded performances.
For that Flea remark, I just have one thing to say : what kind of stick that crawled up your vagina!?!?!?! He is the best bassist who ever lived, although it's a close battle with Cliff Burton.
You want to talk about bands being repetitive and boring, I'll name a few : Pink Floyd, U2, AC/DC, Metallica, The Who, Rolling Stones... Although I have to admit some songs are good, it's the same state of musicianship.
The Chilis have been the most consistent act for the past 30 years and nothing you say can deny that!!

Jun 09 12 - 2:54pm
TC

Well Said

Feb 04 12 - 2:18am
Red, no really

I can't say I disagree with anything written save for the fact that I come to a slightly different conclusion based mostly on "BSSM." Also much of the criticism is for their recorded material, which admittedly is fair, but I've seen them live a couple times and had a really good time. So while I only own one of their albums (BSSM) which I like alot, there's something about them. Maybe they're a must see live band?

Feb 10 12 - 11:37am
Jamee

This is an outrage. They are awesome!!!!

May 20 12 - 6:27am
Fuck yeah

They're shit is so fucking good. Word.

Feb 10 12 - 11:43am
Davey

I agree with you. RHCP is the best! If you don't like them you are missing out

Feb 10 12 - 11:49am
Davey

I was replying to Jamee's comment.
fyi, not agreeing with the article.
whoa that article sucked

Feb 26 12 - 2:36pm
Joshua

DAFUQ DID I JUST READ????

May 20 12 - 6:30am
Some Bullshit

Neither of these writers know what they're talking about. Even the guy who wrote how good RHCP was didn't do the band justice. They're fucking amazing. If you don't like them you overanalyze music based on false predispositions on a criteria of how art should be. They made the Hall of Fame because they are awesome.

Mar 04 12 - 8:09pm
Lex

Derivative? Naw, not really. Early RHCP took a variety of influences and managed to merge them into something new and exciting. Their first album was awful; Kiedis and Flea were very unhappy with the production of it at the time. Their second album was derivative mostly because of George Clinton's influence when producing. Their third album, though? Nothing like it. A crazy mixture of high-tempo funk and gritty punk which produces some of their most cohesive songs; their fourth album is similar with a cleaner, smoother finish. Both are full of relentless energy and drive - it's high-octane adreneline-rush stupidity, and it's honestly thrilling listening with some one of the best rhythm sections popular music has seen. It's dumb. That's part of the appeal. Do you honestly think Kiedis is taking himself seriously when he shouts: 'SO WHAT IF SHE HAS GOT/ BIG TITS-SUH!' in the refrain of No Chump Love Sucker? I can't take them seriously. I actually end up splitting my sides laughing at how stupid it is. Which is actually the point of Kiedis' early lyrics. He's a showman at heart. (And this totally embodies what Sir Pyscho Sexy is about - dumb humour).

And in regards to Blood Sex Sugar Magik, their fifth album, and their break-out album, is probably one of the least derivative things I've ever heard. I like it because it sounds like absolutely nothing I've ever heard of before. Rap-Rock-Funk - what sort of combination is that? It takes the relentless speed of their earlier work, slows it down, allows the bass to be fully appreciated without the mincing guitars on top, helped by slick production and a really cohesive album, and has the greatest variety in Kiedis vocal work (even if his singing is really flat). BSSM took a while for me to warm to, but it's undoubtedly one of their best albums. It's something original in mainstream rock - be thankful.

As for their later work, Californication and By The Way are softer and more melodic, although Kiedis a.) takes a singing lesson which actually works, and b.) writes some decent lyrics. Honestly, how is 'Californication' lyrically bad song? It's not poetry (what lyricist does write poetry?) - it's too direct. I do miss some of the bite in their later works, but it's filled with some beautiful guitar work by Frusciante that I just can't complain about, and some lovely experimental touches in By The Way with different guitar tones and different instruments, even if the songs aren't that climatic. Stadium Arcadium is a bit more rugged, but a bit more generic and too long, although it has some excellent individual songs - 'She's Only 18', '21st Century', 'Storm in a Teacup', etc. Lyrically, Kiedis can sometimes get too lost in nonsensical imagery, missing more than he hits, but he can write some good deep songs. As far as I'm concerned, whilst I do prefer the edginess of their older works, new RHCP, whilst not brilliant, are making some of the best music in mainstream pop/rock, and often making some quite good music, too. Because I can say this for RHCP - they're never boring. Can't say that for most shitty indie rock at the moment.

So yeah, you're talking shit.

Will admit: They're much better live. And they certainly don't deserve the level of worship they get (fucking hell Kiedis, reign in your fangirl hordes). I doubt they deserve stadium rock status either (then again, if I had any say, Stadium Rock would die in a pit of fire - it's soulless and boring). I do wish they were still a small live band on the scene, though - I would like to grab a time-machine and hop back to the 80s to see what they were like before they were millionaires.

May 08 12 - 11:42pm
el123

how can you say this i mean let me give you a list of great and beautiful songs
soul to squeeze
zephr song
snow
my friends
under the bridge
breaking the girl
just to name a few

Jun 04 12 - 10:09pm
Jon

What's with all the haters??? The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been the most consistent, freshest band/artist for the past 30 years!! Their albums are far from repetitive, yes maybe derivative in the early years, but never repetitive.
And Kiedis' voice has gotten better over the years, he's no Freddie Mercury, but he can hold his own, especially as a lyricist.
I still find it ironic that people say that they think they're acting like gods and they're overrated... IMO
Pink Floyd : By far the most overrated piece of shit out there, David Gilmour may be a wicked guitarist - but still very much inferior to Frusciante - but as a singer, he should take his balls out of his vagina and stop singing those depressing, crappy songs. The majority of the success of the band was because the music was experimental/psychodelic rock, which was best listened to while under the influence of drugs (which was very much the lifestyle of that generation). In plain words, Pink Floyd is the worst and most overrated band ever!!
U2 : too generic and they only want to make money releasing the same old songs over and over, like Nickelback,
Rolling Stones : Except for their old catchy stuff, they're become a shadow of their former selves, their music suck lately,
Rush : for Rush, I love Neil Peart's work, I just don't like Geddy Lee. He just tries too hard... Listening to their latest single "Headlong Flight", I had to force myself to listen to it, because Geddy Lee ruined the song...
So all you haters, stop bashing the Chili Peppers, they're the best thing out there in what is now considered a stale genre... cause they're exactly the opposite!!! They don't hide the bass line, the beats are diversified and fresh, the guitar riffs are well thought of and unique and even Kiedis is unique in his own way, he may not be the best singer, but he's one of the best lyricist out there, period!

Jun 27 12 - 9:35pm
Igor

All of you snobby haters obviously have not seen them LIVE!

Aug 09 12 - 4:56pm
Brandon

I will admit Anthony Kiedis is definitely not a good live singer but that doesn't mean they are no good. As long as a band/singer is successful and popular they are good (Apart from Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black because they are just awful!) its just a different style of music that some people like and others hate. RHCP are so unique and in my opinion underrated not overrated and they may not be brilliant live but you can definitely do worse and at least they don't need computers to make them sound better and actually write their own songs unlike most bands/singers today.

Aug 12 12 - 9:49pm
web

these guys used to rock. now they're trying to sell this elementary bullshit. it sucks that talented musicians can't come up with something that doesn't sound like 4th grade music class.