Words By: Gerrod Harris
Recently, a high quality demo of “Circle Of The Noose”, an unreleased, post One Hot Minute track, was released online. The song features Jane’s Addiction guitarist, Dave Navarro, whom was once the guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers between 1993 and 1998, during which the band released One Hot Minute in 1995. The band was in the middle of writing their follow up record when they fired Navarro, scraped all material written with him, and recruited former RHCP guitarist, John Frusciante, and would record Californication, one of their most critically acclaimed albums, often second to Blood Sugar Sex Magik. With the release of “Circle Of The Noose” (you can hear the track below!), I find it important to reflect on the Dave Navarro era of the Chili Peppers, a period which receives much disdain from many, but much admiration from myself.
One Hot Minute stands out to me. If we look at their preceding work, 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers had truly went from a small, semi-recognized band, to a multi-million album selling machine. It was on that following tour where they went from playing in packed clubs and theaters to stadiums with opening artists cycling between who would become some of the biggest names of the 90’s: The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. BSSM was as innovative as it was commercially successful while also cementing the Chili Pepper sound we have come to love: a fusion of funk and rock, with lingering elements of punk rock and hip-hop, effectively making them heroes among the community of other alternative artists which would define the soundscape of 90’s rock. Californication, despite coming out eight years later, picks up exactly where BSSM left off. One Hot Minute, on the other hand, did not. This was a record which perfectly fused the abrasive textures Navarro was so fond of throughout his career with Jane’s Addition, while also bringing a layer of darkness. It is an album which feels that at any given moment everything can fall apart, and that is where the beauty lies. It’s a downward spiral. Navarro was deep into his heroin addiction, vocalist Anthony Kiedis had relapsed hard, while bassist Flea was straddled with the burden of a divorce, while also watching his best friend, Kiedis, fall once again to the might of his personal demons and addictions. This was never meant to be a happy album; rather it is full of tension, dissonance, and frustration.
Sonically, once again, Navarro adds a very different dimension to the music, which was almost the opposite of what Frusciante had done on BSSM. His guitar style is much more aggressive and over the top, as best heard in his many licks on “Deep Kick”, his use of riffs on “One Hot Minute”, and any one of his solos. This added a unique heaviness to the record, which the Chili Peppers have yet to duplicate, and follows in the tradition of rock being driven by the guitar, rather than a line weaved together between the bass and guitar as the Chili Peppers have been known to do quite frequently (see “Sir Psycho Sexy”). This change was not welcomed, which quite confuses me. I love Frusciante, but I also love Navarro, and the direction taken on One Hot Minute showcased a side to the Chili Peppers, which in retrospect, remains one of their most creative periods; a separate peak than where BSSM and Californication emerged. Considering the band has constantly been reinventing themselves since their debut, it truly is a puzzle to me as to why it was not a smash hit. To me, it’s tied with Californication as their second greatest record, and it is one of my absolute favorite records to drum along to. This was a record which rejected what was expected and defied what people thought the Chili Peppers were capable of, and while commercially successful, it was nowhere near the success of both BSSM and Californication, I would place it among those two, as I refer to it as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ expansive discography. My guess is that it initially turned people off; in the moment, it wasn’t what they were looking for, but now, twenty-one years later, I feel it should be revisited, as I am sure there will be much you’ll find and appreciate. The band may be doing just this as at a Super Bowl pre-show in San Francisco, for the first time since 1997 otherwise known as their final performance with Navarro, they performed “Aeroplane”, the third single from One Hot Minute.
“Circle Of The Noose” fits perfectly within the context of the Chili Peppers’ Navarro era. In a similar tone of “My Friends”, “Circle Of The Noose” has an acoustic folky kind of vibe, allowing for Kiedis to sing in a freeing and melodic fashion. Navarro’s electric guitar tracks add another layer to the original acoustic track, as he transitions from clean, ambient arpeggios, to dark, distorted chords, guitar squeals, and a tasteful solo. Overall, the blend between acoustic and electric guitar, along with a world music vibe, is reminiscent to a number of softer works by Led Zeppelin. In 1997, Navarro spoke of the song, describing it as “One of the songs we’ve done is the greatest pop song I’ve ever been a part of…It’s pop in the sense of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, hook. I really love it and we use a loop of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It’s really nice. The best way I can describe it is it’s like pepped- up ’60s folk with ’90s ideals, but I would hate to label it as folk because it’s not, it moves.” “Circle Of The Noose” is the first track to have been released from this period, and it offers a great view into what could have been the follow up to One Hot Minute: a record which would have followed in the similar footsteps of its predecessor in regards to tone, but would have opened up in a highly experimental way. I very much hope Navarro and the Chili Peppers reconnect and collaborate at one point, but until then, here’s hoping for more buried treasure of the likes of “Circle Of The Noose”.
Listen to “Circle Of The Noose” here:
Watch side stage footage of RHCP’s recent performance of “Aeroplane”: