Given the ambitious sonic agenda, it's no surprise that Stadium Arcadium is a big double album - 28 songs and counting at press time. "It's especially ironic when you consider that we set out to write a classic 12-song record," Flea says, laughing. "We said, 'We always have too many songs. We gotta keep it concise this time.' But we can't stop writing once we get going. Everybody's ideas were encouraged and turned into songs. We were really working well together and on top of our games individually."
Even a cursory listen to Stadium Arcadium will confirm the last statement. Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith has never whacked the skins with such savage authority. Anthony Kiedis' voice rises audibly to the music's daunting new challenges, hitting new heights of expressiveness. Flea and Frusciante mesh with such profound rhythmic clairvoyance, it's hard to believe they weren't getting along too well prior to making Stadium Arcadium. The bassist nearly quit the band after the completion of By the Way.
"I was positive I was gonna quit," Flea says. "I was like, 'I'm done. This isn't fun for me any more. This isn't a place for me to express myself anymore;" He says the tension between Frusciante and him was felt throughout the making of By the Way. "I didn't really feel comfortable being myself and I kind of withdrew. But we took a six-month break after we finished touring for that album. John and I had some real clearing-the-air conversations during that time, which were very healthy for me. Things just really got a lot better. Shortly after that, we started writing and making this record. And it was very good creative time."
As the album's title and double-disc length suggest, Stadium Arcadium harks back to the classic rock era of arena giants. It has that sense, so rare in today's corporate music environment, of rock as something big and important, steeped in the power to move the masses, not with a sales pitch but messages both spiritually uplifting and boldly revolutionary.
"For Californication and By the Way, I was focusing on music from the Eighties," says Frusciante. "Whereas on this album I was after what people like the Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple achieved in the late Sixties and early Seventies. All those groups were doing something that was able to bring pleasure to a large amount of people, and at the same time they were breaking new ground and doing something deep. At that time, it was just natural for groups to do that. Today, you could be a really talented group and just not be able to venture into that territory. You've got a lot of forces in the air and in the media that are against you. Business junk."
To make Stadium Arcadium, the Chili Peppers convened at longtime producer Rick Rubin's residential recording studio in the Hollywood Hills, the reportedly haunted mansion where the band recorded their landmark Blood Sugar Sex Magik album 15 years ago. That was the album that catapulted the Chili Peppers to mainstream success, simultaneously helping launch the alternative Nineties and the Lollapalooza generation. But shortly after Blood Sugar's release, Frusciante embarked on what might well be described as a descent into hell. He quit the Chili Peppers and spent five years as a heroin addict. He came perilously close to dying many times, barely escaping with his life after setting fire to his home in the Hollywood Hills on one occasion and suffering severe burns. The drugs and the near-death experiences brought him into intimate contact, he says, with realms beyond this life. He describes the period as a fight for control of his mind, an intense battle between friendly and hostile spirits - manifestations of the voices in his head he'd heard since childhood but which became vivdly tangible at this time.
Miraculously, though, John rose again from the dead. He returned to the land of the living, kicked his addiction and rejoined the Chili Peppers to make the Grammy-winning 1999 album Californication. It was the start of an upward trend for Frusciante and the Chili Peppers. Californication, By the Way and Stadium Arcadium for a triology that traces John's musical evolution and his profound impact on the band. His plaintively dramatic chordal sensibility is the key ingredient in many of the band's greatest hits. His keen arrangement and production skills have burnished Californication, By the Way and Stadium Arcadium with the deep golden glow of timelessness. The Chili Peppers may have started out as Eighties punk funk-pranksters, but they've long since grown to the stature of a classic band. Frusciante has been a prime mover in that transubstantiation.