It's been four years since the Red Hot Chili Peppers released "One Hot Minute." In pop circles, that's one long absence, during which the California quartet saw its funk/metal/rap hybrid advanced by such newcomers as Korn, Limp Bizkit and Insane Clown Posse.
Now the Peppers are back with "Californication" (Warner Bros.), which features the lineup that made 1991's "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" one of that year's bestsellers. Returned to the fold: guitarist John Frusciante, the best attuned of the seven guitarists attached to the band over its 16-year history.
"Californication" delivers a little less than its clever title track suggests--it's yet another caustic commentary on the artificiality, deception and moral decay at the heart of West Coast culture. But though there are a number of familiar frat party jams--the randy "Get On Top," the sophomoric "Purple Stain," "I Like Dirt" and "Right on Time"--the new album also crosses the bridge from rock's perpetual adolescent fixations to more adult concerns. That's hardly surprising from a band whose members have survived drug rehab and divorces as well as motorcycle accidents involving both singer Anthony Kiedis and drummer Chad Smith.
That these are songs of experience, not innocence, is evident in the leadoff track, "Around the World," which alternates Flea's finger-popping bass, Frusciante's brittle scratches and galloping funk in the style of "Give It Away" with a beautifully flowing chorus in which Kiedis acknowledges, "I know for sure/ that life is beautiful around the world."
Kiedis is the band's chief lyricist, and his own difficult rehab seems to inform several tracks. "This Velvet Glove," which starts off stark and spare and builds gradually, suggests, "It's such a waste to be wasted in the first place/ I want to taste the taste of being face to face with common grace."
Other soul-searching tracks include "Otherside," the bittersweet "Scar Tissue" and "Easily," in which Kiedis counsels, "Throw me to the wolves/ because there's order in the pack/ Throw me to the sky/ because I know I'm coming back." Also worth a listen are the mysterious "Parallel Universe," the Doors-like suite "Savior," and "Porcelain," a slow, soft-spun ballad that seems to follow its lyric of "drifting and floating and fading away."
The album ends with "Road Trippin,' " a genial acoustic journey to points unknown--"let's go get lost/ anywhere in the USA"--with eerie, Beatlesque/Brian Wilson underscoring from a Chamberlin organ.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)
CAPTION: "Californication," the name notwithstanding, crosses the bridge from adolescent fixations to serious themes.