This album had the misfortune of coming out on the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s not so much that the two albums were competing dollar for dollar right out of the gate from what I recall, but while one spawned several massive hits, the other changed music for years to come and in the process created a deity for an entire generation. I mean I bought both albums in the same trip to the student record store, but I imagine off the back of Mother’s Milk and its huge single, “Higher Ground,” that it had a higher level of expectation around it than did Nirvana’s eventual masterpiece. Or at least name recognition out of the gate. I had been a Chili Peppers fan since the early days, owing mostly to being raised in their hometown of LA and being a larger than normal fan of the whole funk rap and roll hybrid (I’m looking at you 24-7 Spyz.)
So I listened to this first and was honestly pretty blown away. The production on this thing is beautiful. The slinky baselines and ballzy pop of the rhythm section are pretty damn awesome and John Frusciante just makes his guitar sing. I believe I actually laughed out loud at how awesome this album was. It barely feels like the same band who made the albums that came before. Maybe that was partially Rick Rubin working his magic, or perhaps they just hit on a formula that has not been duplicated since. There is not — and I dare you to search — an album that sounds like this one. Not a one. And there probably never will be. Kiedis, love him or hate him, is also a savant on this thing. Clearly the weakest link in a band filled with amazingly talented musicians, he uses that off kilter (and often times out of tune) lisp to put emotion and an almost homeless blues quality on every song. Even when he’s cartoonishly talking about bonin’, he’s somehow super charismatic.
And then, of course, there’s “Under the Bridge,” the song about heroine addiction (because all good songs are) that took the world be storm. The cock-rock funk band singing what amounts to a rock ballad about being lower than low. And it was a smash hit. Inescapable on the radio, on MTV (back when MTV rotation influenced record sales and musical tastes) and pretty much any shop you walked into. This thing was huge / gargantuan — which seemed so damn odd for a band that was essentially a novelty punk band from LA who seemed to aspire to play music to fuel their partying ways.