39 years, 12 albums with over 80 million records sold, and now a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the greatest and most successful bands of all time. With John Frusciante back in the fold and the release of their latest album – and fifth Number 1 in the UK – Unlimited Love, I have rated all 12 studio albums from worst to best:
12. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984)
The debut self-titled album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers lacks cohesion and misses the raw energy felt in their 1983 demos. There are glimpses of the well-known Chili’s sound on here, and Flea’s bass playing is a highlight, but there are a few too many gimmicky moments – notably Mommy, Where’s Daddy? – and Kiedis hadn’t yet found his groove. Creative differences and tensions between the band and producer Adam Gill – who wanted to go for a more commercial sound – as well as the absence of guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons due to a falling out shortly before the recording process certainly didn’t help set this album up for success.
Top songs: Get Up and Jump, Out in L.A., True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes
11. Freaky Styley (1985)
The follow up to 1984’s The Red Hot Chili Peppers is the band’s most funk-centric offering but still didn’t quite hit the mark and is tarnished with many of the same problems as the debut album. That being said, Kiedis’ vocals start to find some form and gel better with the instrumentation – despite his questionable lyrics and drug issues – and there’s a bit more surety with the sound they’re going for, but there is a lack of magic on this album that can be found in abundance further down the line.
Top tracks: American Ghost Dance, If You Want Me To Stay, The Brothers Cup
10. The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)
Fans will look back on this album with bittersweet memories – on the one hand the original line up of Anthony Kiedis, Flea, lead guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons was back together and they number 1 on the Billboard 200 for the first time. On the other hand, the band was still struggling deeply with drugs, causing difficulties during the writing and recording process and ultimately resulting in the death of Slovak in 1988. The band pushed their musical boundaries on this record, exploring a more melodic style of songwriting, and having Irons behind the drums certainly brought more life to the songs. That being said, there is a distinct lack of memorable ‘hits’ and the band were only scratching the surface of what they were capable of producing.
Top songs: Behind The Sun, Me and My Friends, Backwoods
9. I’m With You (2011)
Writing a follow up to the colossal trilogy of Californication, By The Way and Stadium Arcadium was always going to be tough, but when you throw Frusciante’s departure into the mix too, the expectation of pulling something out of the bag is even greater. Josh Klinghoffer, a former under-study of John Frusciante, was appointed as Frusciante’s replacement as guitarist, but with such big shoes to fill he wasn’t able to help drive I’m With You to the same level as its predecessors. The Red Hot Chili Peppers had nailed their signature sound by this point though and so there’s nothing particularly bad about the album, it just leaves you wanting to listen to the better albums in their discography.
Top songs: Ethiopia, Look Around, Goodbye Hooray
8. One Hot Minute (1995)
2011’s I’m With You wasn’t the first time the Chili Peppers had to regroup and write an album following the departure of John Frusciante. He first left the band in 1992, primarily due to the heightened fame following the hugely successful Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik, but the band quite rightly didn’t want to lose momentum. One Hot Minute is possibly the most overshadowed album in their discography and the appointment of Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro to fill in on guitar is perhaps the better known part of this era. That being said, a few unusual and forgettable moments aside, I largely like the slightly heavier sound on this album.
Top songs: My Friends, Aeroplane, Tearjerker
7. The Getaway (2016)
It took five years for the Chili Peppers to release The Getaway, but by this point in their career they had nothing to prove and the expectation that surrounded I’m With You had faded. The Getaway is by no means a groundbreaking album and as a result goes largely unnoticed like 1995’s One Hot Minute, but tracks like Dark Necessities and Goodbye Angels are brilliant and really carry this album. Josh Klinghoffer still doesn’t quite get to shine on The Getaway, although has a bit more freedom than he did on I’m With You, and the production is a bit polished, but it’s a fairly decent listen nonetheless.
Top songs: Dark Necessities, Goodbye Angels, Go Robot
6. Unlimited Love (2022)
Unlimited Love is almost long enough to be a double album and takes listeners on a journey through past Chilis sounds. The fact we’re seeing new music from Kiedis, Smith, Flea and Frusciante in 2022 is amazing enough, so I can’t be mad about the fact Unlimited Love is not a masterpiece, but the majority of these songs could be b-sides from earlier Frusciante-era albums and I maybe expected a bit more. The guys are all given the space to flourish on this album, which I like, and I bet they had a lot of fun writing the album, but it feels too much like a long jam session and lacks urgency. Unlimited Love is a solid album that gets better with each listen, but it’s definitely one for the long-time fans.
Top songs: Black Summer, Aquatic Mouth Dance, It’s Only Natural
5. Mother’s Milk (1989)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers had seen a fair few lineup changes in the first six or seven years, and with the tragic death of guitarist Hillel Slovak and the subsequent departure of drummer Jack Irons, the band were forced to make further changes and appointed Chad Smith and John Frusciante for this record. Mother’s Milk encapsulates the best parts of their first three albums, but the classic lineup we all know and love hadn’t had time to really find their feet as a unit. The band saw continued success with Mother’s Milk though, and gave fans a flavour of the triumph that was to come next.
Top songs: Higher Ground, Knock Me Down, Fire
4. Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers had well and truly arrived with Blood Sugar Sex Magik! A new decade, a new era and a record full of hits – something the band’s previous albums had failed to produce. The riffs, the solos, the anthemic chorus’, the cohesion, the funk, this album ticked all the boxes. Kiedis and Flea had started RHCP almost a decade before this album was released, but perseverance and a determination to improve and fine-tune their sound on each record paid off with Blood, Sugar, Sex Magik.
Top songs: Under The Bridge, Suck My Kiss, Give It Away
3. Stadium Arcadium (2006)
A 28-song, two hour long double-album off the back of two hugely successful albums was a risk, but the band had arguably reached such heights by the mid-noughties that anything they released would have done well. Boy did they deliver though with Stadium Arcadium! There is plenty of everything on this album – heavy, funk, acoustic, slow – and despite its length keeps the listener entertained throughout. Rick Rubin was back in the producer’s seat for this one and helped the band reach number one in the US for the first time. After taking a more relaxed and considered approach for By The Way, Frusciante let rip on this album and wrote some of his best riffs and solos to date.
Top songs: Desecration Smile, Wet Sand, Slow Cheetah
2. Californication (1999)
Ahh….Californication….what a powerhouse of an album. When you have Otherside, Californication, Scar Tissue and Around the World all on the same record, how could it not be one of their best albums? We see the Chili Peppers dive into slightly softer melodies on Californication, and there’s a notable improvement in Kiedis’ vocals, but Frusciante’s return for this album proved just how integral his songwriting and creativity with a guitar is to the band. Californication is the most commercially successful Chili Peppers album, despite not reaching number one, and can be thanked for their steep rise to global stardom. It’s strange to think that at one stage they were considering going down an electronic route for this album, but the stars certainly aligned and the outcome is fantastic.
Top songs: Otherside, Californication, Scar Tissue
1. By The Way (2002)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers perfected the funk-rock sound with Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991, and created another masterpiece within the funk-rock realm in 1999 with Californication. In comparison, 2002’s By The Way is a departure from this sound and for many is perhaps too mellow. For me, By The Way is the perfect Red Hot Chili Peppers album. From the opening riff of the title track to the closing notes on Venice Queen, nothing feels out of place and each song leads seamlessly into the next. There’s enough variation to keep you enticed but at the same time you’ll find yourself getting lost in the music. The lyrics are deep, the guitar is mesmerising and dreamy, and the harmonies are beautiful. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a special band with almost forty years of music to look back on, but By The Way is the album I always find myself getting drawn back to.
Top songs: Dosed, The Zephyr Song, Venice Queen