Vinyl Corner : Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Californication’

Vinyl Corner is a new feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect, as well as a brief overview of the music itself. This time, we’re taking a look at Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1999 stunner ‘Californication’, perhaps their finest hour.

The Music:

‘Californication’ marked a turning point for Red Hot Chili Peppers. Though the Californian stadium fillers might have started life as a motley crew of P-Funk enthusiasts with a bad attitude, by the the end of the ’90s they were one of the biggest rock bands on the planet and they’d accumulated the experiences to go along with such a title. Guitarist John Frusciante may have been a pivotal influence on the group’s 1991 breakout classic ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ but he soon left the group, unable to cope with the band’s rising success and his own drug struggles. Although 1995’s Dave Navarro-aided ‘One Hot Minute’ was an unfairly maligned gem, it wasn’t until Frusciante rejoined the fold in 1998 that the band would be set on a path that would continue to inform their work for the next decade.

‘Californication’ was more melodic than past efforts; less heavy and – whisper it – not even as funky. A departure, perhaps, but it suited the band well and the album was a perfect platform for their more experienced outlook. They didn’t completely leave their past musical vices behind, either, as the fuzz-drenched opening bars of ‘Around The World’ and funkalicous grooves of ‘Get On Top’ and ‘I Like Dirt’ proved. Although the album’s 2002 follow-up ‘By The Way’ was very nearly as good and 2006’s double-disc ‘Stadium Arcadium’ proved to be a deeply rewarding if uneven experience, the group never quite managed to top ‘Californication’.

The Pressing:

There have been a number of different pressings of ‘Californication’ over the years and, by all accounts, they vary in quality. We’re looking at the 2012 reissue here – that’s the most recent one – so bear in mind if you pick up a different version, playback may differ. The original issue of the album is one of the most infamous victims of the so-called ‘loudness war’ – a trend that reached its peak in the late ’90s and early ’00s that saw many major label releases mastering their albums at earsplitting volume to make them standout when played on the radio; effective, perhaps, but it did come at the cost of any sense of dynamism in the music and nasty distortion throughout. Whilst always more of an issue on CD, even the original vinyl pressings suffered from this to an extent; this reissue does away with any such clipping entirely, leaving the richest sounding version of the album available.

The pressing itself is excellent, too. Our copy is completely free of surface noise and likewise unblemished visually. No big surprise there, it’s produced by the ever-reliable Pallas Pressing Plant and it must be said that they’ve done an excellent job. Musically, there’re a couple of subtle differences with this pressing that are worth noting for more studious listeners; some mixes have been altered, subtly enough that it’s not immediately obvious but overtly enough that it does impact the overall sound. One of the album’s key cuts, ‘Easily’, has seen a face-lift courtesy of backing vocals once buried in the mix having now been drawn out to the forefront. Traditionalists and those with fond memories of the original may contest the decision but newcomers won’t even notice and, for the more open-minded of those who grew up on the album, it’s a change that puts a refreshing slant on an old favourite.

The Packaging:

Packaging is efficient but minimal and certainly nothing to write home about, although it definitely does its job. Artwork is well printed and presented in high quality, free of any digital artefacts; the sleeve is made of mid-weight card and despite being a double LP, it doesn’t come in a gatefold sleeve, so ring-wear may become an issue over time if stored incorrectly. Having said that, no version of the album can be found with a gatefold sleeve, so its unfair to point blame at this version specifically. Despite this, it’s still a nice sleeve; the spine is colourful and stands out on the shelf very well and from new the records come in nice quality poly-lined inner-sleeves. Also included is a 10″ x 10″ insert with lyrics printed on one side and a candid shot of the group on the other. It’s a welcome inclusion and is well printed on admittedly lightweight paper that nonetheless is easy to keep in fine shape if handled well.

Final Thoughts:

The Pallas 2012 reissue of ‘Californication’ is undoubtedly the version to get. It’s a great pressing, with a rich, clear soundscape and well defined instruments – Flea’s bass has a great tone here and funky guitar parts positively pop out of the mix.  For those that have always found the burnt-out mastering of the original a bugbear, this is balm to blistered ears and a hugely worthwhile pickup for fans of the album.