The closest the Red Hot Chili Peppers ever came to straight funk, Freaky Styley is the quirkiest, loosest, and most playful album in their long and winding catalog. It's also one of the best, if least heard. A year earlier, in 1984, they'd made their self-titled debut with a stiff album produced Andrew Gill of Gang of Four fame. The album had its share of good songs, most notably "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes" and "Get Up and Jump," but Gill's cold and tinny production riddled The Red Hot Chili Peppers with the same sort of problem that made Gang of Four's early-'80s albums so distasteful. Namely, the production sucks all the life out of the music and makes it seem distant and unapproachable, as if you were listening to the album in a long tunnel with reflective metal walls. Here on Freaky Styley that problem is thankfully solved: enter producer extraordinaire George Clinton. The funk legend not only gives the Peppers the sort of warm and loose-limbed production that had graced many a Parliament/Funkadelic album over the years, but he also seemingly gives the band some serious inspiration. For instance, a pair of covers of funk classics instantly stand out -- "If You Want Me to Stay" (Sly & the Family Stone) and "Africa" (the Meters), the latter retitled "Hollywood (Africa)" here -- and they're made all the more standout with the addition of Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley on horns. The Peppers also write a number of strong songs of their own. If none stand out, per se -- with the exception of the two covers, that is -- that's because they're all fairly good, relatively rough songs. Sure, some are slight, no question about that, but they help the album flow from one song to the next, because the songs are all more or less different from one another in subtle ways. And they're performed with vigor, as original guitarist Hillel Slovak is thankfully back aboard (replacing Jack Sherman, who played guitar on The Red Hot Chili Peppers and co-wrote the bulk of these songs), and he makes a major contribution to practically every song, playing straight funk here more so than the funk-metal that would characterize the band's subsequent album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. And to make mention of that 1987 follow-up, the Peppers would move on to a new producer, making this their one collaboration with Clinton. They'd never quite recapture the pure funk sound of Freaky Styley again, likely as a result. That's one reason why this album is so special, but it's also because the Peppers have a good clutch of songs to work with in addition to excellent production. And too, they seem relaxed and at ease here, playing quirky songs without any self-consciousness, a quality lacking on their debut. It's a quality lacking on subsequent albums also, though to a lesser degree, when the Peppers would begin sharpening their pop smarts and crafting catchy songs rather than just fun jams like these. So if you're feeling adventurous and are drawn to the idea of the Peppers and Clinton together in the same studio back in 1985 without any pop-crossover ambitions, give Freaky Styley a listen by all means. It's a cult classic of sorts and a world apart from the where the band would go in later years, for better and for worse. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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