It can't have been easy for Red Hot Chili Peppers to make Californication, the group's first album since 1995's generally disappointing One Hot Minute. After all, at this point, any Red Hot Chili Peppers album will be viewed as an attempted comeback, and that's never easy to pull off. Rumors, turmoil, drugs, and departures have dogged the band, and its once-imitated funk-punk sound isn't exactly dominating the airwaves these days, which begs the question: Should the group stick with what it knows and risk being left behind or forge ahead and alienate the fans who appreciated its old identity? Through all this, it somehow made one of the most consistent, compelling, and confident—not to mention commercial and Californiacentric—records of its career, largely by going with what it knows. Californication gets off on the wrong foot, with "Around The World" somehow managing to knock off both "Give It Away" and "Soul To Squeeze," which itself knocked off "Under The Bridge." But it's all uphill from there, with a surprising percentage of the tracks devoted to smooth, earnest, languid slow jams. Guitarist John Frusciante has returned from fucked-up-solo-album-land, replacing Dave Navarro and contributing beautifully somber guitar lines to striking ballad after striking ballad, from "Porcelain" to "Otherside" to "Scar Tissue," a lovely, surprisingly well-sung single that should be a colossal hit. After a while, it's the slicked-up, pitter-patter funk-punk of "Get On Top" and "I Like Dirt" that sounds out of place—and, as always, judicious editing would have helped, especially in the case of late-album clunkers like "Purple Stain"—but that stuff generally works, too, thanks to inspired performances and fine production from the reliable Rick Rubin. Whether the public at large is still thirsting for a good Red Hot Chili Peppers album remains to be seen, but if they are, Californication can't miss.
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