77061529bd39ec0d887d719918fRed Hot Chili Peppers – Mother’s Milk
Words: Ryan Waring

Twenty years ago this August 29th marks the turning point in the career of one of the most influential bands of the 90’s, 00’s, and this generation. On that date, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their fourth studio album, Mother’s Milk. Although neither their most critically acclaimed nor their highest grossing album, Mother’s Milk signified the transition from a troupe of funk-rock party boys to internationally recognized alternative rock musicians.  After poor production efforts and a revolving door of lineups rendered albums below their expectations, the Red Hot Chili Peppers finally reassembled its original lineup of frontman Anthony Kiedis, bassist Michael “Flea” Balzary, guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons for the recording of their third album, Uplift Mofo Party Plan, in 1987. The record was met with excellent critical reception, and was their first to crack the Billboard 200.

However, tragedy derailed the Chili Pepper’s elusive security the following June. Slovak was found dead at the age of 26 from a heroin overdose. Immediately thereafter, the grief of losing his longtime friend to the L.A. scene lifestyle forced Jack Irons to leave the band. After heavy debate, Kiedis and Flea elected to continue the band despite its rending. After a series of incompatible band mates, the Chili Peppers landed drummer Chad Smith, one of the few drummers who could match Flea’s intricate rhythms, and guitarist John Frusciante, whose technical skill and ingenuity boosted the much marginalized melody.

This new tetrad birthed Mother’s Milk, which laid the groundwork for the sound and identity that would define the Chili Peppers for the rest of their careers. Tracks like the opener, “Good Time Boys,” and “Stone Cold Bush” rekindled the band’s punk rock roots and establish Frusciante’s prowess as an axe wielder with his thrashing guitar riffs. Three singles were released from the album: “Knock Me Down,” a humbling track inspired by the death of Slovak; “Taste the Pain,” which was featured on the Say Anything… soundtrack; and “Higher Ground,” a Stevie Wonder cover and their biggest hit from the record. The album also featured a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” recorded while still with Slovak and Irons. The most radical track on the album is “Pretty Little Ditty,” an instrumental in which Frusciante channels steel-guitar feels of the 50’s. The riff from the chorus is the sampled backing for Crazy Town’s “Butterfly.” (I know – I too found it hard to believe Crazy Town didn’t come up with that by themselves)

Despite being praised for its directional shift, Mother’s Milk still embodies the reckless spirit and ebullient passion that had defined the band up until its release. Both Kiedis’ lyrics and delivery alternate between raw intensity and impassioned conviction on tracks like the aforementioned “Knock Me Down” and  “Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky,” a ballad vehemently denouncing Native American oppression. Flea’s bass lines still hold precedence over Frusciante’s licks and are particularly keen during “Higher Ground” and “Nobody Weird Like Me,” which retains the band’s sense of humor. “Magic Johnson” expresses the band’s ubiquitous Southern California chauvinism, while “Subway to Venus” reaffirms their love of the sublime and sensual.

Though it will never escape the shadow cast by the subsequent Blood Sugar Sex Magik, undoubtedly the band’s most hallowed record, Mother’s Milk remains the most daring album from the Chili Peppers, supposing that they never collaborate with 3OH!3 or Toby Keith. Though it never ventures into the genres of electro-pop or country, Mother’s Milk is categorically eclectic and melodically experimental enough (as far as the Chili Peppers go) to consider this their most important album. If it did not sound the way it sounded, the band may well not have survived to see the 90’s.*

- Ryan Waring

*In 2003, a remastered version was released with an added two studio demos, two additional Hendrix covers, and original unedited takes of “Sexy Mexican Maid” and “Knock Me Down.”

Mother’s Milk – Red Hot Chili …

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