As they have morphed from the world’s funkiest hardcore band into a grandiose arena rock monster, Red Hot Chili Peppers have evolved into one of the great American rock bands of the past few decades. But as the last millennium was coming to a close, things did not look especially positive. The group’s 1995 album One Hot Minute — which was the first and only RHCP release to feature Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro — received a very mixed reaction from fans and critics because of its darker undertones and forays into glam rock.
But just as U2 would later do with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the Peppers got back to basics, rehired former guitarist John Frusciante (the six-string force behind their massive crossover hits Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik) and put together the watershed album Californication, which was released on this day in 1999.
Californication was a revelation, and remains one of the finest rock records of the end of the century. Frusciante’s jangly, bluesy style of playing buoyed a series of melancholic tunes and huge, rocking anthems. Rather than just focusing on carnal pleasures, singer and lyricist Anthony Kiedis dealt with love, mortality, religion, depression and death, which made for the Peppers’ deepest and most eclectic records to date. Even with that heavy lyrical bent, just about every song on Californication was an infectious potential hit, including the razor-sharp speed-rocker “Parallel Universe,” the funky headbanger “Get on Top” and the breezy, beautiful album closer “Road Trippin.”
The album became the Chili Peppers’ most successful and has moved nearly 15 million copies to date. The two albums that followed — 2002’s By the Way and 2005’s Stadium Arcadium — both followed similar paths to greatness, and though Frusciante has again left the fold, the Chili Peppers will soldier on with new music some time soon. Californication’s greatest, most Earth-moving moment remains lead single “Scar Tissue,” a rolling, bluesy tune about loneliness and survival. It even won the Grammy for Best Rock Song in 2000.