Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘One Hot Minute’ Was Doomed To Fail, But Its Legacy Deserves Better

One Hot Minute, the sixth studio album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, starts out softly. It’s the feel of the quiet, melancholy-filled moments before destruction hits; the build is slow and steady. Dave Navarro’s guitar sprinkles the corners and dances atop the climbing rhythms played by drummer Chad Smith and bassist Flea. Anthony Kiedis’ vocals come in, tunneled through warbled effects.

“My tendency for dependency is offending me / it’s upending me / I’m pretending to be string and free from my dependency / it’s warping me”

Then bam, the explosion we’ve been building toward happens, and we’re off.

Released four years after the album that propelled the band to the highest levels of rock stardom, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, One Hot Minute was a highly anticipated album on par with Nirvana’s In Utero and Pearl Jam’s Vs. How do you follow up something that was so massively successful? It’s a question people always want to know the answer to. Has a band risen to the occasion or wilted under the growing number of bright lights?

The band’s new guitarist, Dave Navarro, formerly of Jane’s Addiction — brought in to replace John Frusciante — heightened the anticipation for One Hot Minute, adding curiosity to the mix as people wondered what the addition would do to the band’s sound. Frusciante had been a godsend for the band when he joined in 1988 at only 18. He was a natural fit to replace the band’s original guitarist Hillel Slovak, who had recently died of a drug overdose. The overwhelming success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik proved too much for Frusciante, though, who had developed his own serious drug habit. He abruptly left the band while they were touring in Japan in 1992. After auditioning guitarists who had answered an ad in L.A. Weekly, the band roped Navarro, who had been the band’s first choice all along, into joining.

The Chili Peppers’ signature sound, their musical calling card, has always been a chaotic mix of old-school funk, cartoonish vocals and California skate-inspired rock. On Blood Sugar Sex Magik, that jumbled mess of a sound had been finally streamlined and refined in a way that made sense to people outside of the band’s core fan base. They were still manic weirdos, but now slightly more approachable ones. Jane’s Addiction was a band that had a sound close enough to cohesively share bills with the Peppers, but Navarro wasn’t exactly the perfect fit musically for what the band had been up to that point. Funk especially wasn’t Navarro’s bag.

“It (funk) doesn’t really speak to me,” Navarro told Guitar World in 1996. “But then again, when I’m playing with three other guys who I love and feel camaraderie with, it’s enjoyable to play funk.”

Jane’s Addiction had always been a heavier band than the Chili Peppers, and Navarro brought that sound with him to his new band. His metal riffs and hints of psychedelic rock replaced Frusciante’s funkery and, even when the band did delve into funk on a song like “Coffee Shop,” there was an edge to it not previously found on their songs. If Frusciante had been a lightweight boxer, Navarro was definitely a heavyweight and the end result, One Hot Minute, is an album that was initially jarring, unexpected and frustratingly difficult to consume. It was commercially disappointing too, only managing to sell fewer than half as many copies as Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The album would be the only one Navarro would record with the band; he was fired in 1998 due to his drug use and the creative differences between him and the rest of the band.

Now almost 20 years removed from the release of the album, it’s aged surprisingly well, yet it definitely stands apart from the rest of the band’s discography. Time away is more often than not beneficial for an album like One Hot Minute. It was doomed to fail at the time, mostly due to the pressure of following up a landmark album, but also because of the new member and the emotional toll that came from Frusciante’s exit. And from the perspective of examining the totality of the Chili Peppers’ career, the fact that One Hot Minute was followed by the return of Frusciante and the release of a more traditional-sounding and massively popular Chili Peppers album, Californication, only dims any available light that could be shone in the direction of the Navarro Era of the band.

One Hot Minute has its moments for sure and has a handful of tunes that would be at home on a Best of the Chili Peppers’ Spotify playlist. “Aeroplane” probably most closely aligns with the band’s signature sound.

Other highlights are “My Friends,” “Walkabout,” “Coffee Shop” and “Tearjerker,” a tribute to Kurt Cobain.

While the period was definitely a rocky one for the band, it might have also been a period of unease that was needed for them to continue on. They emerged in a better state mentally and emotionally; more focused musically than almost ever as evidenced by the run of albums that came after One Hot Minute: Californication (1999), By The Way (2002), and the double album Stadium Arcadium (2006).

As for Navarro, after his stint with the Chili Peppers he recorded some solo material, rejoined Jane’s Addiction, was married briefly to Carmen Electra and co-hosted two television shows: Rock Star: INXS and Rock Star: Supernova. He was excluded from the Chili Peppers’ induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, despite other former members being inducted with the band. When asked about Navarro’s absence, Kiedis said, “He’s in this other band, which may in fact be inducted one day, called Jane’s Addiction. I think that’s the band closest to his heart and that most represents his contribution to the world in terms of music. So maybe it makes more sense for him to be inducted one day as a member of Jane’s Addiction.”

But we can’t have selective memory when it comes to history — the Navarro Era deserves mention whenever talking about the history of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Only looking at their high points commercially would be doing a disservice to the band, to Navarro, to the band’s legacy. One Hot Minute might not be one of the band’s most popular albums, but it’s definitely one of their more interesting ones. And sometimes it’s the interesting ones that live on better.