Released: September 24, 1991
For better or worse, Blood Sugar Sex Magik changed everything.
Not only did the record provide the Red Hot Chili Peppers their immutable mark of permanence on the pop-culture landscape (satellite radio is still eating up “Under The Bridge”), but the Rick Rubin-produced album also found Anthony Kiedis and the boys complete the transition from a ‘sock-on-a-dick’ sideshow to an arena-headlining act. The band had finally grown up.
Following the tragic death of founding guitarist Hillel Slovak, the ‘classic’ Red Hot Chili Peppers line-up (Flea, Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith and the incomparable John Frusciante) was assembled for 1988’s Mother’s Milk. While the album was a triumphant reinvention in the wake of what was one of the band’s darkest periods, it was during the writing and recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik that the Red Hot Chili Peppers truly solidified into the alt-rock juggernaut that would go on to dominate the 90’s and beyond.
That all said, few indie band’s make it to the top-40 without at least a few artistic concessions, and in this regard, the ‘Peppers were no different. Still, Blood Sugar Sex Magik resonated with the masses and in a big way, and it’s easy to see why.
With seventeen tracks totaling over an hour’s worth of music, Blood Sugar Sex Magik has a little something for everyone. Be it their trademark innuendo-laced funk-metal workouts (“Funky Monks,” “Apache Rose Peacock”), muscular, riff-driven rockers (“The Righteous & the Wicked,” “The Greeting Song”), or radio-ready hooks (“Give It Away,” “Suck My Kiss”), all the ingredients were there, albeit, with a healthy dose of studio polish.
While the funk-infused “The Power of Equality” is a serviceable enough album-opener (the song easily could’ve landed on Mother’s Milk), and “If You Have to Ask” further showcases Frusciante’s ability to shred with reckless abandon, it’s with the acoustic-guitar driven “Breaking The Girl” that the Red Hot Chili Peppers showed the first flashes of their exponential growth.
The band explored a ton of new ground over the album’s first ten songs, but it was the transcendent eleventh track, “Under the Bridge,” that served as Blood Sugar Sex Magik’s true emotional centerpiece. The song not only earned the ‘Peppers some much-deserved critical praise, but in many ways, it also laid the groundwork for what would become a decade of FM radio dominance. Even the album’s only real misstep (the ‘filler’ that is “They’re Red Hot” is so underdeveloped it almost feels like a slap in the face to Robert Johnson’s ghost) is unobtrusively placed at the very end of the line.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the sound of stars aligning. The Red Hot Chili Peppers would go on to sell oodles of records and sell out arenas everywhere, but never again would the hype surrounding their music feel so well-deserved. The record still sounds fresh after all these years and unequivocally stands the test of time; it is the very definition of a classic.
4 thoughts on “The Sound of Stars Aligning: The Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik”
Another solid entry. I was never a big Chili Peppers fan, but I’m definitely a fan of Anthony Kiedis’ story. I’ve always said that the band’s success underscores why it’s so important for a band to have a strong, healthy relationship with their producer.
This is especially true if you’re a singer and a lyricist. You need to have a positive working relationship with your sound engineer because recording vocals is such a challenge.
But it’s the lyrics that can be the most difficult thing to bring to the table because of what it requires you, the writer, to contribute emotionally. This is why Rick Rubin is so instrumental to the band’s success because he was the one who discovered these books full of limericks and free verse that Anthony kept with him and convinced him to repurpose his writing for the band’s music. Without that, there is no “Under The Bridge”, and who knows how everything turns out after that.
There’s only a few weeks left, so I’m curious to see who you’ve saved up for the last few posts. I’m not gonna make any suggestions or predictions, but I’m hoping to see a particular band on here before class ends.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment (as always)!
This record was important to me as well & I knew it backwards & forwards. I had it on a blank tape off someone’s CD & the last song cut off. The songs were written on the card with red & purple ink. I had the poster of the album cover on my dorm room wall, but I trimmed the corners to make it round. I saw them at Lolla II when UTB was the big hit & they wore the flame hats.
I saw them again at one of the new Lollas, & at least I didn’t expect it to be great. I’d kind of lost them around Californication anyway.
The way you describe the vibes of each track and the influence of each album motivates me to want to start reading more music blogs. I’m going to try to walk into a record shop and get the same advice! I knew they headlined at Bonnaroo once? My friends were really excited to hear them play… they were more into rock and alt rock than I was at the time. Killed it again with post.