By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
It was this heartbreak that would inspire the band‘s first truly introspective song and signal a new attention to the craft of songwriting. While Slovak’s death was the catalyst for the song ”Knock Me Down,“ it was the band‘s new guitarist, Frusciante, who would help to channel Kiedis’ grief. ”Here‘s what John did, which had never been done for me before,“ Kiedis explains. ”I had lyrics about the loss of Hillel, but all I had were lyrics, no melody. And I brought it to John and said, ’These are the lyrics, maybe we could turn it into something.‘ He looked at my words and said, ’Okay, I‘ve been working on this thing that I think might go with this.’ And he just started playing guitar and singing a melody for these words that had no melody. He‘s so knowledgeable about affecting melody in original ways, and what he started to bring was this idea of writing different kinds of songs.“
What is perhaps the best song on the new album, or on any Chili Peppers album for that matter, is also inspired by a close friend’s death. On ”Venice Queen“ Kiedis sings about his beloved friend and mentor Gloria Scott, a gray-haired, ex-junkie drug counselor from Venice Beach who helped Kiedis and many of his friends battle their drug addictions. When it was discovered that Scott had lung cancer, the Chili Peppers held a benefit concert for her at the Hollywood Palladium. When her cancer became terminal, they rented her an expensive apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where she eventually died.
The song begins with a tense guitar resembling Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells Exorcist theme accompanied by a low Joy Division--like synthesizer fading in and out. Another guitar emits mournful notes as the bass and drums gradually build to a fast, nervous pace, with Kiedis singing: ”Does it go from east to westbody free and a body less . . .“ and ”Dropping in coming through the meshchecking in just to get blessed.“ A few minutes in, everything drops out, and a lone guitar begins to strum like Pete Townshend on ”Pinball Wizard,“ the bass and drums quickly joining in. What had seemed the tension of illness and impending death becomes a bittersweet celebration of a life well spent as Kiedis sings: ”We all want to tell hertell her that we love herVenice gets a queenbest I’ve ever seenWe all want to kiss hertell her that we miss her.“ Soon Frusciante‘s voice is harmonizing behind him, and the song has the exuberant, driving-up-the-California-coast feel of the Mamas and the Papas. What began as a moody meditation on mortality and loss grows into a heartfelt tribute. It is an incredibly effective song, musically striking and intensely emotional.
Flea says that before recording the album, he and Frusciante had listened a lot to the melancholy work of Joy Division. ”Sad music is beautiful,“ he says. ”A lot of the music we play is definitely born of sadness. I mean, it’s a sad world that we live in. It‘s a sad and beautiful world is what I say.“
The new album showcases Kiedis as a vastly improved vocalist. Still not blessed with enormous range, he has learned like other rock singers -- Mick Jagger, Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop -- to use interesting cadences and emotional delivery to surprising effect. ”One thing I really can’t stress enough about this record is Anthony‘s growth as a singer,“ Flea says. ”We would start playing stuff on this record, and he would just start singing melodies that were incredible. And I think probably that has as much to do as anything with making it a great record. He’s just continually shown growth, and on this record he really took everything to the highest level.“
Still, it is a topic Kiedis appears weary of. ”People always bring it up, but I just don‘t think about it,“ he says. ”I just sing whatever comes to me. Some days I feel like I can sing anything I want, and some days I can’t sing shit. But I try not to think about it so much. I just close my eyes and sing whatever I can.“
On early records, Kiedis‘ lyrics tended toward simple, almost adolescent-like rhymes of self-congratulatory boasting and lustful fantasy. Over the years, he has matured as a lyricist, his subject matter becoming increasingly observant and revealing, his wordplay skilled and inventive. On the song ”This Is the Place,“ Kiedis addresses the search for romance amid the debauchery of L.A. nightlife: ”This is the placewhere all the devils pleadtheir case to take from you what they needCan I isolate your genecan I kiss your dopamineIn a way I wonderif she’s living in a magazine.“ Later in the song, he looks inward, contemplating the behaviors he might have inherited from his once hedonistic father: ”I don‘t want to do itlike my daddy didI don’t want to give it to my baby‘s kid.“
Rubin believes it is this more revealing subject matter that has inspired Kiedis’ enhanced vocal delivery. ”I always found Anthony‘s lyrics interesting,“ Rubin says, ”but it seems like they have gone from interesting abstract lyrics to personal, heartfelt lyrics. And I think that’s because he‘s not telling a sex story but conveying a real emotional experience. It’s fueling the singing to be better and more emotional because the substance of it is coming from a deeper place in him.