Red Hot Chili Peppers
Blowing hot and cold
Once the original rebels, Red Hot Chili Peppers are now very much part of the establishment. Mark Robertson reckons that isn’t such a terrible thing
There’s a tenuous logic that argues if an artist is not struggling their art is less vital in some way. There’s a healthy disrespect for careerist attitudes in art, especially among musicians, but there’s a contradiction inherent to the notion that musicians should always strive to concentrate on their music a much as possible but as soon as they begin to make a living out of it full-time, and it becomes a career, they’re selling out and their work will be the worse for it. This argument is a handy get out for defeatists and pessimistic underachievers everywhere. Find any artistic endeavour uncorrupted by people’s aspiration to get paid to do it, and you’ll find, well, nothing. It simply doesn’t exist.
Red Hot Chili Peppers have enjoyed a 24-year career that has embraced both extremes of rock’n’roll: rebellion and corporate careerism. In that time they’ve gone the rebellious socks-on-cocks arch-hedonists, driven by a spectacular smorgasbord of pharmaceuticals to fully feng shui-ed up, new age hippies. They’ve gone through eight guitarists and seven drummers but have maintained a recognisable image and brand. And then there’s the little matter of knocking out eight albums and selling over 50 million copies of them worldwide.
Only U2 have polarised public opinion quite so strongly. Their macho, shirts off, tats out, oiled up posturing was, for many, less Greek gods, more Venice Beach lunks. They have been perceived as dumb, boob-ogling jocks but remain politically and socially aware – performing at Democratic political rallies – while maintaining a veneer of muso disengagement. The Chilis are fascinating in their inconsistency. They have swung between outlandish crowd-pleasing showmen – sporting light bulb costumes for a headlining slot at Reading Festival for example – to heads down, noodling jams in front of 10,000 people.
This inconsistency extends to their records. The band have alternated between bad and good albums, appearing to struggle to keep their eye on the ball. The shambles that is One Hot Minute is sandwiched between the bruising magic of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication, and they followed 2005’s tremendous By the Way with last year’s two-disc sprawl Stadium Arcadium which is, to be frank, an unchecked shambles. Lucky for them they have enough quality tunes tucked away over the last 14 years to hold up any sags in a set list.
Red Hot Chili Peppers are among the true deserving headliners in global rock music. Like U2, REM, Radiohead and at a push, Metallica, they have both popularity and the back catalogue to support such an esteemed position. That they can come to Scotland and fill our national stadium with relative ease is a none-too subtle indication of their standing. Bands like the Chili Peppers exist for two reasons: to give aspirant rock madrigals something to aspire to, massive critical and commercial success, and something to rebel against, something to be repulsed by, to despise, to inspire said aspirants to pull new, exciting, innovative musical shapes out in reaction to their work. Either way, we need them.
Hampden Park, Glasgow, Thu 23 Aug.