‘Californication’ Turns 20

A soundtrack for the end of the ’90s

Like a lot of bros who grew up in the ’90s, I’m a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But unlike a lot of ’90s bros, I didn’t get into them through their ‘91 smash Blood Sugar Sex Magik, but through their ‘99 comeback album, Californication.

The truth is; although I liked BSSM, middle school me was just too much of a geek to connect with Anthony Keidis and the band’s bravado. Their shirtless swagger was definitely at odds with my Eddie Bauer sweaters, khakis and complete inability to talk to girls.

Fast forward eight years to 1999. My roommate, a big RHCP fan, pops Californication in our Aiwa 3-Disc Changer. From then on, it was our soundtrack to the summer, and one that I still revisit… 20 years later?! It was my pre-date music… I guess trying in vain to soak up a bit of that patented RHCP sexual energy? “I Like Dirt” got us pumped on the way to mountain bike rides. It was always playing in my old Honda, my apartment, and my Discman, pretty much all that year and into the 21st century

Each member of the Chilli Peppers are among the best in rock at what they do, but together they form something greater than the sum of their parts. Keidis is the ultimate frontman, whose vocals range from a sublime croon to sophomoric rapping. (See: the heartfelt ode to recovery “Otherside,” followed by the delightfully raunchy and immature “Get on Top.”) Chad and Flea play like funky, sweaty robots, especially locked in the groove on songs like “Parallel Universe” and “Right on Time.” Fruciante is the outsider, not well suited for mainstream fame. His clean, one-note solos, high-pitched backing vocals and avant-garde artistry kept the whole thing from getting too macho.

Beyond being an album stacked with great tunes from top to bottom, Californication’s tales of redemption and brotherly love gave it the sensitivity and depth that was always lurking in the corners of the Peppers’ music. After Fruciante overcame his battle with addiction and returned to the band after sitting out One Hot Minute, the band was complete once again. The Peppers were back and better than ever.

The story of the Red Hot Chili Peppers could’ve ended tragically. But it didn’t. Healthy and working at their creative peak, the Peppers reunion on Californication sent an inspiring message about recovery, determination, the power of music and the bonds of brotherhood. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since its release, but let’s hope they’re still out there in 20 more. (Hopefully with Fruciante back in the mix again.)