Friday, May 11, 2012

R is for Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Lee, why don't you write any more?"

County Fair, Watertown, NY
Well, I ran out of drugs. I can't write for shit unless I'm a little tickled under the old hood, y'know? Wish it wasn't true, but it is. I've never written a decent song without a little help from me frenz, and same goes for whatever they call this sort of baloney. Anyway...

I don't like Radiohead at all. I hated "Creep" and never gave the poor blokes a fair shake from then on. I'm more than willing to classify them as a good band, but I just don't like them. I've called OK Computer a piece of shit at least a hundred times, and I meant it every time.

That's what's so great about music (and movies, TV, sports, and most other things), right? We can hate stuff that we know is "good" and not look like complete idiots. This is what separates us from primates and computers, from what I understand.

That said, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is one of the very best records of the '90s. I couldn't wait for this one to arrive back in 1995, and I was lucky enough to snag a CD promo of "Criminology"/"Glaciers of Ice" a bit early. This single kicked my faggotty ass in such a profound way that I'm still in artists' therapy. The A-side is like nothing I've heard before or since-- way off the map in every which way.

"Criminology" opens with standard Sosa/Montana shit, soon followed by a musical stampede of elephants and rhinoceroses. The majestic chorus of horns and drums brings us to late 19th century Africa, something like a Mingus interpretation of the ivory trade. Before we can say "pith hat" we're rudely shifted into a completely different world for the first verse.

Rae's hilarious "Julio Iglesias" scat provides little comfort, as a stark, tubularly metallic riff ("Hell's xylophone," I originally dubbed it) threatens to suck out our souls. Imagine an Escher-style escalator with razor blades for steps, and you're getting warmer (meaning colder). Dorothy, we're not in the Belgian Congo anymore. Ghostface reacts appropriately with a ferocious verse that I'm not sure I understand, which is more than fine with me.

But the quick fade from Africa to Hell reveals the true horror of this track: the underlying drum track. The elephant stampede beat is solid as a rock, but the escalator beat staggers along like a three-legged baby okapi. It's downright pathetic. RZA made sure the kick don't quite fall on the one, and the snare most definitely misses the three. This beat's certainly not safari-worthy, and might not even make it down the driveway to pick up the mail.

The elephants return when Ghost finishes, but seconds later they're gone. Rae's verse kicks in, with enough classic lines to generate an entire Mobb Deep album's worth of choruses. By now we're settling in somewhat, resigned to the back-and-forth between stampedes and verses. We're gonna make it!

Unfortunately, there is no third chorus. Instead, RZA makes one of the more profane arranger/producer decisions since Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star: he actually "gives the drummer some." Problem is, he goes with the crippled okapi drummer instead of the elephants! This guy can't even see straight, let alone get people on the dance floor. Yes, the first single off Raekwon's debut album contains a drum solo. Too bad his kick drum's flamming like an old sneaker and his snare sounds like a box of cereal.

The track mercifully starts winding down at around 3:10, reaching some sort of musical resolution. All track elements are reunited for the fadeout, as the stampede of horns charges side by side with the metallic nightmare and disabled drummer, who throws in some fancy syncopation with two seconds left... certainly too little, too late.

Don't even get me started on "Glaciers of Ice."

Wanna sound like an idiot? Tell people that you like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I mean, tell your hipster "music" friends you like 'em or even just liked 'em. With few exceptions, you'll be kicked out of the conversation or abandoned completely.

Like Phil Collins, the Chili Peppers have dug their own undeserved grave. I suppose one might say they deserve the grave because they chose to dig it themselves, but in truth the plot was already reserved for them long before they broke ground. In other words, they were destined for hatred and didn't really give a shit. The fact that they actually became worldwide superstars despite their... OK, this isn't making sense.

RHCP were one of the best bands in the world in the mid-80s. If you saw them play a club with less than 500 people inside, you're not arguing with me. Maybe a dozen bands combined punk rock and musicianship to the degree we're talking about here: Bad Brains, Minutemen, Gang of Four (maybe)... but how many were all about fun? Like, partying fun. No politics, no rules, and definitely no clams onstage.Flea made the Red Hot Chili Peppers great, and not just fun. I know he's like a cartoon character at this point, but you had to take him absolutely seriously as a musician and force of nature back then. Were the songs good? Not really. Were things done in good taste? Never. What about the vocals? Easily top 5 technically worst singers of all time. But Flea (and by extension, the rest of the band) played so well that you couldn't ignore it, but so hard that you'd get knocked on your ass if you stopped to watch. Charles fucking Barkley.

Crowds at Chili Peppers shows got a bit dangerous. Before you begin lecturing on your high horse, I'm talking about the crossover factor; the whole frat punk thing. You had lots of drunk guys going to their first "punk rock" show, and losing their shit when some sweaty dude with a shaved head knocked their ass on the floor while they were trying to watch some music and maybe get laid. The "code" was lost and stupid fights replaced the occasional elbow in the back of your head. Oops.

Regardless, Flea's more than OK in my book. Mike Watt's cool for cool people; Flea's cool for himself.

So everyone knows about Raymond and Peter now, but there was actually a time when Shut Up Little Man! was considered underground. Easily one of the best recordings of the early '90s... I enjoyed the holy hell out of this thing with HSPussy for countless hours. If you want to learn something about the depths of humanity, here's a good place to start.

Luck of the Draw
by Bonnie Raitt contains two of my favorite songs of all time. I've attempted both on karaoke stages, much to Brooklyn's chagrin.


Umm, I'm noticing that people talk about Otis Redding a bit less each year. Go buy something by the man (in a store!) and do something about this disturbing trend.

Now I get to talk about Lou Reed. What a fucking wacko. His records are as infuriating as the Velvets' stuff is great. I've come to the conclusion that Lou has ingeniously calculated and executed his entire career with the sole intention of frustrating his listeners. Sorry, but his "challenging" works along with his outright garbage just aren't outweighed by the rewards. I own pretty much all of his rock records, and I'll listen to Blue Mask, Rock'n'Roll Animal if I'm drunk, and about seven other cuts from the rest of his catalogue. The rest can go to hell.

Hey, don't forget about Pop Beloved by the Reivers!

I can still listen to either of R.E.M.'s first two records (or Chronic Town) at any moment and love them as much as ever. Fables sort of pisses me off, and Pageant is great but I don't really enjoy it as much as I used to. The rest can go to hell.

I love people that get wasted and start fights at parties talking shit about the Replacements. I truly adore this small subset of my address book.
I'm fairly certain that I once accidentally played Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever while trying to hook up with a girl and completely blew the gig. Like, I never saw the girl again.

I could bore the boxers off everyone on earth if I went on and on about how and why DJ Pete Rock makes my day, but I probably shouldn't. If you still don't believe that rap's the most innovative genre of our lifetimes, maybe you should spend a little time with this man.

Christ, the Stones too? I thought Big Hits... and Out of Our Heads were the coolest records ever when I was about 9 or 10 years old (I didn't realize the former was a collection). I used to stare at those album covers for hours.

I stared at a few Roxy Music album covers too, but not in quite the same way. My wife and I rarely actually listen to them together, but they're kind of an intense musical bond for us. Just the idea and sound of them is something we'll always understand and share.

I hope I don't need to explain my feelings about
Rush to everyone reading this. Every once in a while I get a request to reprint my lost review of Signals, which I simply cannot do. I accidentally erased it while writing "live" on MySpace, or so I assume. The only thing left from that Friday night disaster was a piece of looseleaf with some scrawled notes and what appear to be forgery attempts of Andre Dawson's signature. This I can't explain.