LOS ANGELES -- When the Red Hot Chili Peppers reconvened last summer to work on their first new album in four years, they said it was immediately clear a vital component of their sound was back.
They didn't have to look any further than guitarist John Frusciante to know what that piece was.
And with Frusciante's return -- after having left the group on bad terms nearly seven years before -- the Los Angeles funk/punk outfit found the inspiration to fashion one of its most accessible, melodic albums to date, Californication (June 8).
"I definitely never worried about it or had any doubts or fears, especially from the very first day that we played," said lead singer Anthony Kiedis, 36, speaking in a Beverly Hills hotel room recently about the return of Frusciante. "The very first time we all went into [bassist] Flea's garage studio and plugged in, it was a very beautiful feeling."
After an initial period of loose jamming, Kiedis said the group quickly mapped out more than two dozen songs for the album, marking a clear return to the Chili Peppers' trademark mix of pop, rock, funk and punk. It will be the group's seventh studio effort since it formed in 1983.
All three Chili Peppers -- the group also includes drummer Chad Smith, 36 -- credit Frusciante with reinvigorating their sound and vision following the disappointing response to 1995's One Hot Minute, which was recorded with ex-Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.
The interplay between Kiedis' alternately rapped and crooned vocals and Frusciante's kaleidoscopic guitar arrangements (and vocal countermelodies) drive the album's planned first single, the jazzy, mid-tempo ballad "Scar Tissue." Other standouts are the surprisingly delicate "Porcelain" and the hard funk-rap tunes "Around the World" and "Get on Top."
Kiedis said the rapprochement with Frusciante, 29, came at nearly the same time Navarro announced he'd be leaving the group in early 1998.
It was Flea (born Michael Balzary), 36, who suggested that Frusciante fill the oft-vacated spot in the band. "Flea has a great sensitivity and intuition to what's going on and what the possibilities are," Kiedis said.
Kiedis, his famously long, straight hair shorn to a page-boy cut, was seated just a few feet away from Frusciante in the hotel room. The normally outspoken singer sat patiently as Frusciante, sitting cross-legged on the room's bed, spoke at length about his desire to imbue every song on the album with a unique vision.
"I wanted to play the way that people play who invent something original and cool and colorful to do based on the fact that they have the limitations technically," Frusciante said. "I'm talking about people in new wave and punk rock. I wanted every song to sound like that, but like a different person"
As a result, it's nearly impossible to recognize the fluid, spare notes on the album's melancholy pop title track as the work of the same guitarist responsible for the crunchy arena-rock riffs of the funk-pop track "Easily."
Frusciante performed on the band's most successful albums to date, 1989's Mother's Milk and 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which featured the radio hits "Give It Away" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Under the Bridge." American Records honcho Rick Rubin produced Californication.
Although his relationship with Frusciante was once distant and strained, Kiedis said the idea of the inventive guitarist returning to the fold seemed almost too good to be true.
"It's the same band that we had before with John, but obviously we've grown as people and musicians," Flea said. "And especially when we write music the way we do, which is an unstructured thing that relies on emotion and intuition and spirit. ... With John, that's what we're doing, is trying to channel the energy that's all around us. The energy that's around us now is different from the energy that was around us seven years ago."
The past two years have been tumultuous ones for the band. The period included a string of cancelled live dates, Navarro's departure, two motorcycle accidents affecting Smith and Kiedis, and a public admission by Kiedis of a relapse into drug use.
Additionally, the group was hit by what Kiedis termed a "super-typhoon" named Rosie at the inaugural 1997 Fuji Rock festival. Then its set at last year's Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C., was scratched when lightning struck a fan on the show's first day. The group played a surprise concert-closing mini-set the next evening -- the first large-scale live show performed with Frusciante since his return.
The full track listing for Californication is: "Around the World," "Parallel Universe," "Scar Tissue," "Otherside," "Get on Top," "Californication," "Easily," "Porcelain," "Emit Remmus," "I Like Dirt," "This Velvet Glove," "Savior," "Purple Stain," "Right on Time" and "Road Trippin'."