My memories surrounding the seventh studio album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers are flooded with great moments spent with this classic, late-90’s record on many Summer evening drives back and forth from the beach. Californication came at a time when my sixteen-year-old self was rapidly veering away from the pop that was dominating the airwaves of the radio, and I vividly remember when I purchased a CD copy of this album that I still hold in such high esteem to this day. As I look back on the 20th anniversary of this classic, I remember how I was immediately drawn into the world the band was describing in ways I never thought that I could be. I was transformed within an album from the very first notes. While my younger self may not have fully grasped all the themes that were being tossed around in the lyrics such as: death, suicide, globalization, and traveling, I could still appreciate every ounce of blood sweat and tears that the band had put into the classic LP.
Sometimes with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it’s best to think of Anthony Kiedis and his vocal lines as just another instrument in the mix. There’s at least a little bit of evidence that the frontman views himself that way, too. As New York Times journalist Nate Chinen wrote in his review of the Peppers’ new album, The Getaway, Kiedis “writes lyrics with rhythmic cadence first and foremost, which means that there will always be bursts of babble.” RHCP have always been a band whose foundation is rhythm, from their early days as a funk band to their transition into more conventional alt-rock territory with 1999’s Californication. With a rhythm section as talented and dynamic as Flea and Chad Smith, it’s tough to blame Kiedis for wanting to write lyrics that allow for better beat and syncopation. The negative consequence to that impulse is that Kiedis is very frequently singing lyrics that, while they might mean something to him, don’t carry much weight for the average listener.
Why would any band ever release a double album? Serious question. The deck is stacked against you. Even the Beatles couldn’t do it without filler, and they were working in the days of vinyl. (Plus, you know, they were the Beatles.) What the hell do you have in your songbook that justifies two CDs of material? Calm down, go home, cut some tracks, and come back when you’re ready to be serious about making a cohesive work of musical art.
By all accounts, double albums are impossible. Even the acclaimed ones don’t escape the charge of filler, from Bruce Springsteen’s The River to The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. Let’s not even get into the kind of reputation that Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor has, or Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. And you can sure as hell bet that Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience and Green Day’s trilogy would have better legacies if they had been single-disc affairs.