By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Punks who funk but sound like junk, the Chili Peppers never figured out how to become the white Parliament-Funkadelic because they're too busy evolving into white bread. If such early outings as Freaky Styley and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan hinted at a party band adept at fusing the disparate styles (no better than George Clinton, no worse than Fishbone), then One Hot Minute and its 1991 predecessor BloodSugarSexMagik are where stupid energy was sacrificed for songwriting and singing--two things this band couldn't do on a bet.
The addition of guitarist Dave Navarro has only helped the Peppers become a tepid Xerox of Jane's Addiction--a groove band in search of a melody, a mish-mash of psychedelic words and sounds piled atop '70s rock bombast, self-seriousness degenerating into self-parody. Nothing about One Hot Minute is fun or engaging--not the lead single, not the unintentionally hilarious spoken-word interludes, not the self-explanatory "Tearjerker." At its best ("One Big Mob"), One Hot Minute faintly echoes what once made the Peppers mildly interesting way back when; at its worst, it's even more horrible than that.
Heavy on atmosphere--guitars that chime in and out from nowhere, half-heard voices that brush across lyrics like sudden warm breezes, soft heartbeat percussion--Harris' big step away from country ("my weird record," she calls it) is a quiet triumph of subtlety and beauty. Her voice, so chirping and piercing before, is surprisingly fragile here--more a whisper than a siren, the lyrics more sighed than sung. If she seems a bit tentative at times, a sweetheart of the rodeo trying to lasso Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young songs, it only enhances the effect of a woman bidding farewell to what she once knew to search for something different and even better.
With a set list ranging from Hendrix's "Waterfall" to Young's title track to Lucinda Williams' "Sweet Old World," Harris concocts an album of soft farewells--images of buildings destroyed and memories discarded, lovers bidding each other and this sweet old world a tearful goodbye, orphan girls dancing in white at the (wrecking) ball; at its dramatic finale, Harris wants to "waltz you across Texas tonight" under a starry sky and a bright moon.