Not to make any generalizations, but September 24, 1991 was a really great day for music. On this one day 25 years ago, the world was introduced to three groundbreaking albums from three very different groups. One was the enlightened lyrics and smooth grooves of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, one changed the entire landscape of rock and roll with an album cover of a naked infant, and then there’s the red-headed step child of this trio: A funk-punk superman punch of pseudo-sex rap and inner soul searching with guitar solos and hammering percussion. Some kids were buggin’ out, some smelt like teen spirit, and some just wanted to give it away. What a time to be alive.
1991 was gut check time for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 1989’s Mother Milk was the band’s second burst of life with new guitarist John Frusciante (replacing the late Hillel Slovak), a thicker sound, and their second album to crack the Billboard 200 album charts. The Chilis had one toe in the spotlight, so how do they get their sock-covered genitalia all the way in? Bring in music producer guru Rick Rubin to give the band a bigger canvas to expand their talent. The result was one of the biggest albums of the 1990s and the alternative rock genre, along with furthering establishing the Chili Peppers as one of alt rock’s premiere acts and expanding what alt rock would allow into their once secret club of bands. That’s a lot to come from an album as ridiculously titled as Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
And in many ways, Blood Sugar is a ridiculous album. “Funky Monks,” “If You Have to Ask,” “Mellowship Slinky in B Minor,” “Apache Rose Peacock,” and “They’re Red Hot” are head-scratching tracks where singer Anthiny Kiedis scats borderline jibberish over groovy basslines and scratching funk guitar riffs. It’s like if Parliament and The Beach Boys tripped out on LSD and tried to get laid. Then there’s the fist-pumpers like “Give It Away,” “Naked in the Rain,” “Suck My Kiss,” and album opener “The Power of Equality.” That track alone, with its faded opening 13 seconds leading to Kiedis’ “SWING!” kicks off the near-74 minute record with a swift kick in the balls. For such chaos and energy in the songs, it’s amazing that the band sounded as tight as they did. Flea and Chad Smith’s bass and drum backbeat is one the best in rock in the last three decades, matching each other’s speed, aggression and accuracy. Frusciante truly emerged as the band’s x factor, managing to experiment with his guitar playing on “The Righteous & The Wicked,” the title track and “Sir Psycho Sexy” while still merging with the band’s unique style.
Lyrically, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is all over the place. But the forceful music allowed a more heightened focus on the lyrics. The Chili Peppers have made forceful fight/protest music before, but something felt more urgent in “I’ve got a soul that can not sleep/At night when something just ain’t right” in “The Power of Equality,” or the graphic nature of “The Righteous & The Wicked” (“Holy mother earth/Crying into space/Tears on her pretty face/For she has been raped/Killing your future blood/Fill her with disease/Global abortion please/That is what she needs.”). They still know how to have fun and be gross with lines like “Little Bo Peep, cumin’ from my stun gun,” “Blood sugar sucker fish in my dish/How many pieces do you wish,” or “Mary-go-round I ride you for my love.” But it’s the tender moments that make listeners do a double take. There’s “Breaking the Girl,” where Kiedis admits to being a doofus when it comes to love but he’s trying hard to learn for this one woman. The stripped-down music allows the lyrics to be the focus, the same goes for “Under the Bridge.” The both were prime examples of ways alt rock bands could mature and mature and perhaps *gasp* become songwriters.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik may have been partially responsible for ska/rap/punk merger bands to invade the late 90s and the Chilis would spend all of their career trying to prove themselves worthy of their success. But it can’t be ignored how powerful the album is. Sure, rock got serious and loud during Nirvana’s meteoric rise to the top, but it also got weirder with the Chili Peppers breaking through. “Alternative” didn’t have to mean one thing anymore.