On one level this so-called “Greatest Hits” collection is appropriately named, given that it contains 14 MTV and radio smashes that took LA’s groundbreaking funk-rock crew from cult status at the end of the 1980s to global superstar, enormodome-selling status by the end of 2003.
However, not to put too fine a point on it, this stinks of record company cash-ins and should be more appropriately titled, “The Red Hot Chili Peppers: The Warner Years (+ Higher Ground)”.
Yes, yes, everyone has their idea of what a greatest hits package should look like, but it seems incredible that a Chilis best of should not include tracks like True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes (from 1984’s eponymous debut), Catholic School Girls Rule (from 1985’s Freaky Styley), Fight Like A Brave (from 1987’s Uplift Mofo Party Plan) or Taste The Pain (from 1989’s breakthrough album, Mother’s Milk). It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that these were all included on EMI’s superior 1992 collection, What Hits!?, could it?
Whatever the politics of this situation (and there are politics given that What Hits!? had one Warner track, Under The Bridge, while in return this has one EMI track, Higher Ground), the track-listing for this album is still bizarre. It’s not chronological; it only contains one track from 1992 to 1997 when Jane’s Addiction guitarist, Dave Navarro, was in the band (where did Aeroplane fly to, for instance?); and it doesn’t even include latter-day hits like The Zephyr Song.
Nevertheless, judging by the liner notes, it seems to have the band’s full blessing. If that’s enough to make you buy it then rest assured you’ll find the stomping funk-rock of Give It Away and Suck My Kiss nothing less than exhilarating. Californication and Under The Bridge, meanwhile, are slow classics, featuring silky smooth vocals, clever lyrics, some gorgeous guitar touches and melodies that were far too special to be desecrated by the likes of All Saints.
And then there’s Higher Ground, of course, a genius, punked-up cover of an already great Stevie Wonder song, complete with children’s playground vocals for the chorus, and which showed a band defiantly fighting in the face of tragedy after original guitarist, Hillel Slovak’s untimely, heroin-related death in 1988.
The observant will have noticed that little mention has been made of the Chilis’ 21st century output. That’s because to these ears, with the exception of By The Way, which harked back to the Give It Away glory days whilst adding their new-found commercial sheen in the choruses, these tracks are vastly inferior.
Just how did the band that broke all the rock rules when it got the legendary funk-meister George Clinton to produce its second album in 1985; the band who released an EP entitled Abbey Road featuring that socks-on-cocks picture; the band who influenced a whole generation of rap / rock bands from Faith No More onwards; end up serving us such safe, innocuous sterile pop as Road Trippin’ and new, demos-in-disguise, Fortune Faded and Save The Population?
I was speaking to an 11-year old Chilis fan the other day who had absolutely no idea that they’d done anything prior to Californication. That’s not his fault. If there’s good to be had from this album perhaps it’s to encourage fans like him to seek out the first 13-years’ worth of material when this was a band that genuinely did tread on musical Higher Ground.