Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Chili Peppers still hot

With their latest album already at platinum level, it's the best of times for a band that has seen its share of the worst

By Alan Sculley  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at a concert for the Fuse network last May in New York.

PHOTOS: AP

Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith doesn't assume that every album the band makes is destined to be a hit. But during the making of the band's latest, the two-disc Stadium Arcadium, he saw telltale signs that the group was poised for another round of major success.

“We felt really good about all of this music,” Smith said in a recent phone interview.

“We wrote so much of it, and we wanted it all to be together — hence the double record. When things are flowing like that and everyone's getting along and everyone is happy and healthy, to me that's a sign that we're not laboring over it. It's coming real naturally and real organically, and for our band, that's when we do our best stuff,” Smith said. ” But you never know. All you can do is make it and put it out there, and then it's for the world to enjoy.”

It didn't take long for Smith to see that his instincts were right. Stadium Arcadium became the first CD in the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 23-year career to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.

It grabbed that spot with first-week sales of more than 400,000 copies and has since gone platinum, with more than a million copies sold. The CD's lead single, Dani California, hovered at the top of Billboard's modern rock charts through the summer; the song only recently fell out of the top 15. A new single, Tell Me Baby, was only deposed from the top slot on the modern rock chart last week, by the Killers' When You Were Young.

It is, in other words, the best of times for a band that has seen its share of the worst.

Formed in 1983 by singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea (real name Michael Balzary), guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons, the band quickly established its hard-hitting funk rock sound on albums like 1985's Freaky Styly and 1987's The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.

In 1988, the band was rocked by Slovak's overdose death. John Frusciante filled the guitar slot a year later, while Smith replaced the band's second drummer, Cliff Martinez. With Frusciante bringing more of a pop sense to the band's music, the Chili Peppers broke through in a big way with the 1991 disc Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which spawned the now-signature hits Give It Away and Under The Bridge.

While the CD turned the Chili Peppers into arena headliners, it came with a price. Unhappy with the demands of popularity and the group's willingness to capitalize on its newfound success, Frusciante quit. Former Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro stepped into the void, but the follow-up CD, One Hot Minute, was a disappointment, and in 1999, Frusciante returned to the fold.

The ups and downs didn't end there. The 1999 album Californication was a 4-million-selling comeback, but the band's sometimes volatile chemistry became strained during recording sessions for 2002's By The Way.

In particular, Flea felt Frusciante became too possessive of the music writing process and ignored his ideas — a sentiment, that as Flea revealed in a recent Rolling Stone cover story, nearly caused him to quit the band.

Smith said he was surprised by Flea's revelations, but they made sense in hindsight. “I didn't feel a big tension, but there was some,” Smith said of the By The Way sessions. Frusciante “had a real preconceived notion of how he wanted the stuff he was coming up with to sound, which was different,” Smith said.

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