Published Feb 01, 2000In 1999, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are a band that probably shouldn't exist. Their last album, 1996'sOne Hot Minute , was a crime against music that should have done them in. They've had as many guitarists as Spinal Tap had drummers, and they can't seem to hang on to any of them for a variety of reasons, mainly drugs. Their trademark sound - a combination of punk and funky white boy posturing - has been stolen and/or improved upon by countless newer acts.
So why is their new album, Californication , worth the time of day? Because it's surprisingly good, tasteful and even mature - three adjectives not normally associated with the Peppers. Most of the credit, figures drummer Chad Smith, goes to the recently-returned guitarist John Frusciante, who left the band after 1991's breakthroughBlood Sugar Sex Magic . Smith is sympathetic to befuddled interviewers who are surprised at how much they like the record.
"That's OK, you can be surprised," he laughs from his L.A. home. "When John left the band, he was in a bad place, so to play with him again is such a blessing. It's a treat to have a second go with the person who I think is the best guy for our band. He's the missing piece that makes it all happen."
Californication may be evidence that the band has creative reasons to stay together, but there were many points in the last decade when the friendship between the three core members was the only thread holding things together.
"The respect we have for each other is a big part of this band," Smith continues. "Everyone goes through their shit, but it's just a rock band. It's a big part of our identity and what we love to do, but I'm more concerned with people's happiness and health. If someone's off hurting themselves and being destructive, the band should be secondary. It's more important that you care about the person when it gets to that serious shit.
"At the same time, we're really proud of the music that the Chili Peppers have created, and it would be hard to throw all that away and say, 'Fuck it, let's do something else.'"