90s Score: 8/10
2016 Score: 9/10
Throughout what can easily be considered a tumultuous career riddled with drug (ab)use, overdose, and all the usual rock and roll debauchery, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are considered a different band depending on who you talk to. There are those who have casually listened to Californication or By The Way and can sing along to the singles on the radio, and there are those who assess your legitimacy as a Chili Peppers fan according to how many pre-90s albums you’re familiar with, how well you know their history of ever-changing guitarists, what your favourite B-side is, and which live performance you prefer (because you’ve seen them all).
While Blood Sugar Sex Magik is arguably the record that put the Chilis on the map, it is their fifth studio album. Released on September 24th, 1991, with Warner Bros. Records, BSSM – at the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin – was recorded in the Los Angeles mansion that magician Harry Houdini allegedly once lived in and now haunts. In order to maximize creativity, the band, with the exception of drummer Chad Smith (who drove in on his motorcycle every day), lived in the house for the duration of the recording. The entire process can be seen in the equally brilliant documentary named after the fourth track “Funky Monks.”
Lyrically, BSSM represents frontman Anthony Kiedis in his prime. Throughout the album his lyrics are characteristically sexual, political, vulnerable, and unforgiving. And, he even manages to remember the majority of them when playing them live. Vocally, however, it is Frusciante’s own range showcased in his back-up vocals that make Kiedis shine – unless, of course, Kiedis is rapping. BSSM is the first album in which the then 19-year-old Frusciante distances himself from former guitarist Hillel Slovak’s aggressive style and begins to come into his own. The result is slightly more accessible, but no less funky. Guitar Player Magazine was perhaps the best to describe Frusciante’s newly found sound as a blend of “acid-rock, soul-funk, early art-rock and blues style with a raw, unprocessed Strat-and-Marshall tone.” Mixed with the ferocity with which Smith drums, and the plain virtuosity of bassist Flea, BSSM brilliantly showcases the unparalleled chemistry between the relatively young band members.
Having made public the Chilis song-writing process in the widely read autobiography “Scar Tissue” written by Anthony Kiedis, many are familiar with the sentiment behind songs such as “Under the Bridge” (Kiedis’ struggle with heroin), “Breaking the Girl” (Kiedis’ guilty musings on being a “womanizer”), and “I Could’ve Lied” (again, Kiedis’ heartbreak over Irish singer Sinead O’Connor). While hit singles such as “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge” launched both BSSM and the band into the international spotlight, for me it is jam-oriented, sex-fueled tracks such as “If You Have to Ask,” “Mellowship Slinky in B Major,” and “Sir Psycho Sexy” that invoke the funky, Sly and the Family Stone-inspired spirit that make BSSM a timeless favourite.
Given that BSSM reached number one in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, it becomes even more difficult to say it deserves any less than an 8/10. However, looking back almost 25 years since its inception, BSSM has not only influenced an entire decade of musicians and listeners, but now stands as a bridge between the Chili’s early, blissfully chaotic funk, and their more melodic, structured sound that was to come.
Written by Jordan Hodgins
*edited by Kate Erickson