[Our series of posts on albums, movies, etc that celebrate significant anniversaries this year continues. - KJ]
We'd heard quite a bit about the Red Hot Chili Peppers during the '80s but didn't pay much attention. In 1989 Mother's Milk changed that--as they used to say at the time--with the quickness.
Recorded after the OD death of guitarist Hillel Slovak and departure of drummer Jack Irons, Milk introduced what is the band's best-known and most durable lineup: vocalist Anthony Kiedis, and bassist Flea, alongside guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith. (However, Slovak and Irons appear on a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic "Fire" and Fishbone drummer Fish plays on "Taste the Pain".) It's also their last album for the EMI label--they would subsequently sign to Warner Bros and remain on that label for 2 decades--and one that benefits from the perspective of listening to it two decades removed from its original release. (A remastered version with bonus tracks, and liner notes by Flea, was issued in 2003.)
Going back to this one, what becomes readily apparent is how much boundless energy and humor these punk rockers with a deep love for Hendrix and P-Funk displayed back then, as well as how far from their eventual superstardom--if not chronologically--they seemed at the time. (The chorus for "Pretty Little Ditty" begs "put us on MTV / all we really need / begging on our knees / please, please, please, please, please" and the song itself ends with the guitar intro from Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" to seemingly prove both their desperation and commitment.)
Like every RHCP album, Milk is an uneven affair. And while the production isn't hair-band dated, it hasn't aged that well. (Seriously, what was up with all that reverb?) Regardless, there's a bunch of fun tunes on here than more than make up for it. Among them: lead-off track "Good Time Boys"; a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground"; a humorous ode to their favorite b-baller ("Magic Johnson"); "Sexy Mexican Maid"; and the aforementioned, excellent "Taste the Pain", which was used quite effectively during a post-party driving scene
in the classic teen movie Say Anything, also released that year.
For better or worse, depending on your taste, Mother's Milk is both the blueprint for the Peppers' massive success--it was followed by the blockbuster BloodSugarSexMagik album just two years later--and undoubtedly, one of the touchstones of what was to be the alt-rock boom of the following decade.