Song 149: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Scar Tissue” (1999)

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I’m not sure why I love “Scar Tissue,” but it has something to do with main guitar phrase that starts the song. Red Hot Chili Peppers are, in my opnion, underrated as songwriters. It’s true that Anthony Keidis’s lyrics are often, to put it lightly, inane, their melodies and arrangements are often very well done.

The band’s fortunes, critically if not commercially, seemed to follow the path of its sometime guitarist John Frusciante. When Frusciante was in the fold (for such highs as Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication, and By the Way), the results were often pretty amazing. When he was out for drug-related reasons (for lows like One Hot Minute), the results were lackluster. Frusciante’s Hendrix-like playing is the thoughtful heart that counterbalances Keidis’s impulsive-sounding vocals, and it works beautifully with Flea’s typically effortless bass.

In the case of “Scar Tissue,” Frusciante’s playing is reminiscent of Hendrix’s exceptional, and underappreciated, work on slow songs and ballads. The man could rip it up, for sure, but the way he played on “Little Wing,” for example, is truly amazing; the notes flow as easily as water through a stream. Frusciante emulates Hendrix’s playing in the sense that it doesn’t sound like playing. It doesn’t sound like fingers on frets, it sounds like notes appearing out of thin air.

Okay, so there’s all that. Why else do I love “Scar Tissue”? Hearing the Chili Peppers in quiet mode somehow produces more tension than, say, “Give It Away.” On quiet songs, they’re so tightly wound that you expect them to jump out of the box with socks on their crotches. It helps that the songs themselves are often pretty great.

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