Tag Archives: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Rocks In The Attic #603: Alanis Morissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (1995)

RITA#603On Boxing Day in 1995 I got the bus into Manchester, my Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket. I think I’ve managed to avoid Boxing Day crowds ever since, but you don’t think about these things when you’re a teenager.

It was cold on Market Street, super cold. Still, those with money to spend had braved the cold to be able to spend it. I couldn’t find anything worth buying in the big HMV – my record store of choice – and found myself at the Virgin Megastore down the street.

I bought two CDs that day – the Beatles’ Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. One album would be an evergreen in my record collection to this day, the other a passing trend. In fact, a few years later when I sold all of my CDs, and started buying records, I re-bought Revolver immediately. Jagged Little Pill was released back in the day on vinyl, but it would have only been a limited run, and I probably wouldn’t have been too bothered in tracking it down.

If anything, I felt a little betrayed by the album. It had been marketed to me as an alternative rock fan – the lead single You Oughta Know came with a dark music video featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and Dave Navarro, who played on the song. I was still interested in the Chili Peppers around this time, and the recently released One Hot Minute was a regular feature on my Discman, so their involvement added an air of respectability to Morissette. You Oughta Know might be a great, rocking song but it’s one that is completely under-representative of the rest of the album.

And herein lies the rub. The rest of the record is interesting enough, but after I heard Hand In My Pocket or Ironic about a hundred times on the radio, my enthusiasm for the record started to wane. The album spilled a staggering six singles into the pop charts, and so it became harder to enjoy as a complete body of work.

RITA#603aI was still excited twenty years later to hear about the vinyl re-issue by Newbury Comics (and in a lovely blue marble pressing). But what would I think about the album after all these years? Well, it brings back lots of great memories from around 1995 and 1996 – finishing Sixth Form, a great summer with friends, and leaving home to go to University – but that’s about it.

I’m much more cynical now. Songs such as Perfect, Your Learn, Head Over Feet and Wake Up are stereotypical ‘90s coffee-shop rock. The overplayed big singles are just as hard to listen to, seemingly crafted to appeal to casual music fans or AOR fans looking for something between Bryan Adams albums. It’s not surprising to hear that Morissette co-wrote the album with producer Glen Ballard – the man who co-wrote Man In The Mirror for Michael Jackson.

The cynic in me also feels justified when I found out – via Morrissey’s autobiography – about a meeting he had with Warner Records in the early ‘90s:

Seconds later, I am not in his office. I am politely ushered out. I ask key faces at Reprise what it was all about, and I am reliably informed how Warner need a massively successful ‘act’ who is ‘alternative’, and I was indeed being auditioned for the star part since I had thus far been the most successful ‘alternative’ artist in America.
‘Alternative to what?’ I foolishly ask.
I hear nothing more, but I note the immediate meteoric Warner rise of Alanis Morissette – the incongruous promotional manifesto enveloping her first album that shifts 27 million copies worldwide. Evidently Alanis had all that I lacked in order to gain a saturated global push.
‘Is THAT why I was interviewed? I later ask Howie Klein.
‘YES!’ he half-shouts, as if I ought to know everything.

The rolodex spat out the next card in the alphabet and in Morrissey’s place they reinvented Morissette, a Canadian singer with two forgettable dance-pop albums to her name.

I’ve recently been re-watching The Trip To Italy. It was nice to hear Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon also reappraise her landmark album.

Hit: Ironic

Hidden Gem: All I Really Want

Rocks In The Attic #600: Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip’ (1993)

RITA#600During their formation in the early 1970s, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry initially rejected Steven Tyler’s proto-power ballad Dream On, believing that the only type of slow song the band should play was a slow blues. Perry was somehow won over (overruled? blackmailed?) by Tyler and they recorded the song in late 1972. It was a high point on the band’s self-titled 1973 debut, eventually becoming one of the band’s biggest hits, peaking at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 upon its re-release as a single in 1976.

Twenty years on, and Perry’s principles have been left behind in rehab with his various drug addictions. Either that or his accountant has managed to point out how many Ferraris and swimming pools Tyler’s ballads have paid for in the intervening decades. Their eleventh studio album, Get A Grip shows that Perry has all but given up in the struggle against Tyler’s proclivity towards slower, commercial songs.

Things don’t start well, with Tyler rapping – yes, rapping – over a drum loop. A snippet of their well-known Walk This Way riff completes the heavy-handed reference to the band’s crossover hit with Run-D.M.C., before making way for some Polynesian drums and the first song proper, Eat The Rich. It sets the scene well, with a heavy riff and a ballsy production by Bruce Fairbairn aimed at a grunge / alternative rock audience.

Something isn’t quite right though. Over their two previous records, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989), Aerosmith showed that they could succeed by employing external songwriters. But Pump, the more successful of those albums, still had a decent proportion – 60% – of self-penned songs. With Get A Grip however, Aerosmith put almost all of the album – thirteen out of fifteen songs – into the hands of ‘song doctors’. As a result, the band sound less and less like the 1970s classic rock versions of themselves, and more and more like something created in a school for performing arts.

The album has no less than seven singles (released over a fourteen-month span), and this is where the album loses focus. It’s almost as if they were trying to create an album of singles, a ready-made Greatest Hits compilation. Released smack-bang in that early-‘90s period when nearly all rock albums tended to be sixty-plus minute affairs, the only limits were the band’s imagination (and the running length of a compact disc). As a result, it lacks the cohesion of Pump, and has far too much filler material.

Joe Perry should be happy though. The album contains a more than adequate dose of straightforward rockers, and he even gets to sing a self-penned number (the refreshing Walk On Down). However, it isn’t power ballads that Perry should be looking out for; Steven Tyler has a new weapon in his arsenal – country-rock. Be afraid, be very afraid.

One of the most joyous moments on Pump was its final song What It Takes – a slow-burning country-tinged ballad, co-written by Tyler and Perry with Desmond Child. Something about it didn’t seem serious though. Tyler hams it up by singing the lyrics in a southern drawl, and it sounds more like the band is having fun playing in a different style than a serious attempt at a change in genre.

Fast forward four years and either Tyler has been bitten by the country bug or somebody has pointed out how lucrative the country market is. Two of Get A Grip’s singles – Cryin’ and Crazy – are unashamedly country rock, and this time the band aren’t playing around. They’re deadly serious. By 1993, two of Garth Brooks’ four albums had debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 – a feat Aerosmith could only dream of at that point – so it’s difficult to view their change of direction without a degree of cynicism. Get A Grip would be their first record to peak at #1, so maybe the left turn into country music paid off.

The album does have some high-points– the cosmic jam of Gotta Love It finds them channelling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Line Up is a welcome collaboration with Lenny Kravitz and Boogie Man might just be the weirdest, most soothing guitar instrumental you’ve ever heard after Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross.

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The Get A Grip tour programme

But it’s the big singles that are the showcase of the album. Released a month in advance, Living On The Edge is a weighty rocker, with the band in important-message-to-the-youth-of-today mode. It’s so earnest; a million miles away from the band who had recently been singing about transvestites and sex in elevators. The other notable hits – the Alicia Silverstone music video trilogy of Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy – are as commercial sounding as possible. Chart fodder, indistinguishable from a Bon Jovi record.

I saw Aerosmith on the Get A Grip tour, in Sheffield on Thursday October 21st 1993, the very first concert I went to, and so the record means a lot to me. I just wish that such an important record in my musical upbringing was a better record.

If Pump represented a high water-mark for the second age of Aerosmith, Get A Grip signals the beginning of a long, slippery slope downhill.

Hit: Livin’ On The Edge

Hidden Gem: Gotta Love It

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Rocks In The Attic #504: Rage Against The Machine – ‘Rage Against The Machine’ (1992)

RITA#504I’m fourteen again!

When I started listening to rock music in the early ‘90s, this was essential listening. There was this, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Metallica’s self-titled ‘Black’ album. All three were incredibly relevant to a teenage rock fan.

In retrospect, it’s really only Rage Against The Machine who were cutting-edge. Both Metallica and the Chili Peppers had taken five albums to get to that position; RATM had done it in one, a sterling debut.

Mixing rock and rap wasn’t anything new. The Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. had been doing it for five or six years by this point, but that was rap sampling (or in some cases, playing) rock. This was the other way around – a heavy rock band, with rap-inflected lyrics, courtesy of Zack de la Rocha.

It wasn’t cutting-edge for long though. A year later in 1993, the turgid soundtrack to the turgid film Judgement Night featured collaborations between rock / metal bands and rap acts. Then the floodgates opened, and a thousand imitators came along. The worst, although regrettably the most successful, was Limp Bizkit – a band ultimately so terrible that I walked out on my weekly DJing residency in the early 2000s because the landlord of the bar asked me to start playing more Limp Bizkit.

The imitators might have got the mixture of rap over rock right, but they avoided the political stance of Rage Against The Machine, and most importantly they didn’t have the same groove. One hit-wonders Crazy Town (no, me neither) even lifted a sample from the Chili Peppers’ Pretty Little Ditty for their song Butterfly, such was their inability to come up with their own groove.

Killing In The Name seemed like a rebellious song to listen to back when it came out, purely for the outrageous lyrics in the latter half of the song. When it would come on in a club, everybody would pile onto the dancefloor, purely for the thrill of being able to jump around shouting “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” at each other. I’m sure de la Rocha intended the song to be a missive against the establishment, but he ultimately created a song for difficult teenagers to use as internal ammunition against their parents.

There’s a reasonably successful (in local terms) Manchester band called Nine Black Alps, featuring an old acquaintance of mine. Signed to Island in the mid-200s, I caught them in the New Band tent at Glastonbury in the same year, and I really like their debut record Everything Is. But in the last ten years or so I haven’t been able to listen to Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name without thinking of that ‘too cool for school’ acquaintance from Nine Black Alps. The word on the street is that prior to joining that band, he was on some performing arts course in Oldham where he had to do a public performance of the song as part of his final exam. To an audience of teachers, students and examiners they went with the more family friendly lyric “Flip you I won’t do what you tell me!”

Hit: Killing In The Name

Hidden Gem: Wake Up

Rocks In The Attic #451: Cliff Martinez – ‘Drive (O.S.T.)’ (2011)

RITA#450Drive was my film of the year in 2011. Anybody who has spent a good deal of time playing Grand Theft Auto since the game-changing third iteration of the series in 2001 should like Drive. In fact, if they licensed it as a Grand Theft Auto film, it’d probably be the best video game adaptation ever to set foot in cinemas.

The film has a great cast – Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, and Oscar Issac (General Organa’s most daring pilot) – and a fairly simple plot, revolving around a stunt-driving anti-hero pulled into the world of small-time mobsters.

One of the standout aspects of the film though is the music. Cliff Martinez – a former Red Hot Chili Pepper – always constructs his scores around the feel of a film, rather than writing the music to fit certain cues, and Drive displays this approach perfectly. It doesn’t sound too far away from video gae music in fact. The ‘80s tinged vocal tracks which kick off the soundtrack are mesmerising in their effortless simplicity and sheer coolness. They fit perfectly with Ladyhawke’s eponymous 2008 debut album – another retro sounding record which helped bring the ‘80s back into the zeitgeist.

If there was ever a film that made me want imitate art, it’s this one. Although, finding a reason to evade police in a fast car, while wearing driving gloves and a white satin jacket with a scorpion on the back, might not be the easiest thing to do.

Hit: Nightcall – Kavinsky

Hidden Gem: Tick Of The Clock – The Chromatics

Rocks In The Attic #377: Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ (1991)

RITA#377Now this takes me back. If there’s one album that reminds me of my teens, it’s this one (and probably also the first Rage Against The Machine album). Blood Sugar Sex Magik is ingrained in my mind with being 16 years old, waiting for Saturday night to come around, getting drunk at somebody’s house, and then making our way into Oldham to go to Ambition – at the time, the only nightclub in town for anything other than pop music; one room indie, one room alternative rock.

Until I bought it recently on vinyl, I probably hadn’t heard B.S.S.M. at all in the twenty first century – remarkable, considering how much I used to listen to it in the 1990s. I gave up my CD copy a long time ago, and never bothered to seek it out since. I‘m amazed at how much I’m enjoying it – that first side – The Power Of Equality, If You Have To Ask, Breaking The Girl, Funky Monks and Suck My Kiss – is absolutely killer. It does wane near the end, but you’d sort of expect that from an album that runs at an hour and thirteen minutes. In any other decade, that’d be classed as a double-album. In the early to mid ‘90s, when everybody was filling CDs up to breaking point, it was par for the course. In fact, I had to return my first copy on CD to Picadilly Records as my stereo refused to play it. The disc wasn’t scratched, I’m just not sure if CDs were ever designed for that much content (the same happened with Metallica’s Load later in the decade).

I could harp on and on about how the Chili Peppers were a decent band, at the cutting edge of the zeitgeist, when they released this. But I won’t. I just remember the good times that accompanied this record.

Hit: Give It Away

Hidden Gem: The Power Of Equality

Rocks In The Attic #184: Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Mother’s Milk’ (1989)

RITA#184I still hold this up as a fantastic album, over Blood Sugar Sex Magik any day, and proof at just how much a band that was dangerously cutting-edge had descended into mediocrity and the middle of the road.

When I was first getting into music in the early ‘90s, the Chili Peppers were promoting Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and this was generally considered to be their masterpiece. There’s a raft of great songs on that album – but they really over-stretched themselves (the album has a running time of 74 minutes, which I think was one of the longest single albums around on CD at the time). Mother’s Milk, on the other hand, is far more compact. It’s their first album with John Frusciante and Chad Smith, and their choice (and subsequent performance) of covers – Hendrix’s Fire and Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground is outstanding.

The only negative point I now hear in the album is one moment in the otherwise sublime Hendrix-esque Pretty Little Ditty, later used heavily as the sample in the song Butterfly, by one-hit wonder rock/rap act Crazy Town. The world needs fewer bands like Crazy Town, where image – tattoos and baseball caps – matters more than originality.

Of all the bands in the world playing to the masses in aircraft hangar-sized arenas, it’s the Chili Peppers I wish I could turn backwards. Nearly every other band at that level has had a generally understandable progression from where they came from, into what they are now, but the Chili Peppers are like a completely different band. They used to take risks – now they just write songs for rich American college kids. What a shame.

Hit: Knock Me Down

Hidden Gem: Johnny, Kick A Hole In The Sky