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** RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, "Californication," Warner Bros.

June 06, 1999|SANDY MASUO

In the '80s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers earned a raunchy reputation, specializing in such brazenly lascivious funk-rock etudes as "Sexy Mexican Maid" and "Jungle Man." The '90s have been a different story.

Compelled to explore its milder side (and mainstream potential), the Peppers began seeding their albums with flaccid but successful radio fodder and the occasional pensive lyric. "Under the Bridge," "My Friends" and "Aeroplane" helped garner platinum sales and arena tours, but sentimental airs and deep thought just aren't the musicians' strong suit, and their latest effort doesn't do much to prove otherwise.

"Californication" (in stores Tuesday) features several jamming tracks that work up a good head of steam (notably "I Like Dirt" and "Purple Stain"), but there are just as many melancholy, mid-tempo numbers that meander past, melodic yet unremarkable. Other selections run a bizarre gamut, from a reasonably pleasing stab at jangling psychedelia ("Savior") to a wacky disco interlude ("Right on Time") and an attempted torch song ("Porcelain") that only emphasizes Anthony Kiedis' inability to croon.

Ultimately, the Peppers' musicianship is forceful enough that even their most dubious experiments are worth a listen. It's just not as much fun as the days when the band functioned with a one-track mind.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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* Excerpts from albums reviewed and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.calendarlive.com/soundclips

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