Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mother's Milk (1989) - Album Review

By Sergio Ariza

The beginning of their classic line-up 

Mother's Milk,
the band's fourth release, may not be one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' best albums, but it is one of their most important, being the first to feature the band's core lineup of Anthony Kiedis on vocals, Flea on bass, John Frusciante on guitar and Chad Smith on drums.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' career seemed to have taken off commercially thanks to their previous album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the first in which all the original members of the band played - Kiedis, Flea, guitarist
Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons - but everything went down the drain when Slovak died of an overdose on June 25, 1988. Irons could not bear his loss and left the band, whereas Kiedis and Flea, who were equally devastated, decided to continue as a tribute to their friend.


They first recruited DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight, formerly of George Clinton's Funkadelic (who had produced the band's second album), as guitarist and D. H. Danger, formerly of the Dead Kennedys, as drummer. But the chemistry with McKnight was not good and he was fired after three concerts, but not before threatening to burn the singer’s house down... They then decided to sign up as a replacement a young man of 18 years old who was a big fan of the band and specifically of Slovak - John Frusciante - and this time the chemistry was perfect. Soon they were writing new songs like Stone Cold Bush, Taste the Pain and Sexy Mexican Maid, but shortly after entering the studio to start recording Mother's Milk, the band decided to also dismiss Danger, who had a serious drug problem. It was then that Will Ferrell's double Chad Smith came into the equation. It is said that following his audition the band members laughed for half an hour, as they knew they had just found their definitive drummer.

The album opened with the explosive riff of Good Time Boys, which is close to metal, with Kiedis reciting the lyrics in a similar way to Fight Like A Brave from the previous album. But then their remarkable version of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground appeared and it seemed clear that the band had done their homework, with Flea's spectacular starting bass line the Chili Peppers put fire into this ‘anthem of overcoming’ that fitted like a glove on a band trying to pick themselves up from a very hard blow. Frusciante shows he has learned to be funky and delivers some great guitar work, possibly on his ‘69 Les Paul Custom (although in the video he appears with his Strat).


It is on songs like Knock Me Down, dedicated to 
Slovak, or Taste The Pain where the enormous importance that Frusciante had in this band becomes clear, with his fine melodic sense and his nods to psychedelia on his '68 Stratocaster. His arrival also meant a return to the band’s punk rock origins, on songs like Punk Rock Classic or Magic Johnson (a band from Los Angeles could not but pay homage to the Lakers hero), where the influence of The Germs and Black Flag can be seen. Of course, the band did not forget to include Slovak on the album and so they reprised their frenetic version of Jimi Hendrix's Fire, which had already appeared as the B-side of Fight Like A Brave and on their Abbey Road E.P. (in which they appeared crossing a zebra crossing like the Beatles but with a sock covering their genitals as their only clothing).     

The best was yet to come but Mother's Milk served as an apprenticeship for these four musicians to find their common ground - something that can be heard in their version of Hendrix's Castles Made of Sand in the extended version - and they were able to deliver, in the following decade, two iconic albums: Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication.