January 18, 2003
Here's the thing about a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers having such a long and sustained career: you inevitably take them for granted at some point. When the Chili Peppers released By the Way in 2002, it felt like a momentous album to my 16-year-old self. Now in 2024, I have a hard time summoning that enthusiasm about a new Chili Peppers album. Mostly because the band has always been there, and it feels like they always will be there. If an asteroid wiped out Earth one day, I'd still bet the Chili Peppers would find a way to put out new music.
So remembering what it felt like when the band scored their second #1 song on my top 40 is a real trip. It's me remembering how I'd play the CD on my way to school during a dark winter morning, or watching the video in the strange new apartment in western Washington I was living in at the time. It's a throwback to a time when things seemed simpler, but were really standing on its head. Maybe that's an appropriate metaphor for this song, if not the band themselves.
Like many Chili Peppers songs, the lyrics to "Can't Stop" aren't really telling a story. They mostly function as an accompaniment to the instrumentation the rest of the band brings to the song. Go ahead, read the lyrics to the song and tell me what they mean. "Can't stop, addicted to the shindig/Chop Top, he says I'm gonna win big/Choose not a life of imitation/Distant cousin to the reservation."
As someone who feels like they can find meaning in the lyrics to most songs I like, I got nothing here. It goes on from there: "White heat is screaming in the jungle/complete the motion if you stumble/Go ask the dust for any answers/Come back strong with fifty belly dancers". Seriously, what the fuck does that mean?
But I feel like if you're looking to the Chili Peppers for a deeper meaning in life, then you're taking things way too seriously. Compare it to a song like "My Friends" from One Hot Minute, and you'll see what I mean. It's a good song in the band's catalog, but you can tell the group wasn't having as much fun with Dave Navarro in the fold instead of John Frusciante. Sometimes you have to let loose and just enjoy shit, and the best Chili Peppers songs enable you to do that.
It also diminishes the fact that Anthony Kiedis is one of the best rock vocalists of all time. The lyrics to "Can't Stop" make the song a whole lot of fun, but that wouldn't be possible with any other singer. Kiedis wrote the lyrics to the rhythm of the song, which is somewhat backwards from the way most musicians write songs. That can only work when everyone in the band is on the same page, and with the classic Chili Peppers lineup, that's almost always the case.
The music video for the song was directed by Mark Romanek, someone I associate with darker, moodier videos. That's not what's going on in this one. The band members run around with light fixtures on their backs, or play with foam peanuts. It's about as close to abstract art as a music video can get. The set pieces were inspired by Austrian sculptor Erwin Wurm. Romanek associates these irreverent actions with clean lighting and bold, solid colors. The contrast makes it incredibly effective. It was one of those videos I couldn't wait for to come on MTV2 or Fuse back in its day.
"Can't Stop" wound up being the Chili Peppers' eighth #1 hit on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, and got to #57 on the Hot 100. The fourth single from By the Way was "Dosed", which didn't get as strong a push as its predecessors. No music video was made for the song, and it stalled at #13 on the Modern Rock chart. I barely remember hearing it on the radio or anywhere outside my CD player, which is probably why it didn't even make my top 40. That's a shame, because its the type of song that sounds perfect for relaxing on a summer day in shade.
By the Way was incredibly successful at confirming the Chili Peppers' standing in the rock music firmament. So much so that it allowed them to take bolder chances with their next album. They released Stadium Arcadium as a double album in 2006, and it became the band's first #1 album in the United States.
At over two hours long and 28 songs deep, the album is a real commitment to get through. I don't remember spinning it nearly as often as I did By the Way. Maybe that's why none of its singles got to #1 on my top 40. The closest was lead single "Dani California", which peaked at #3 for six weeks in the spring of 2006. The song is a sequel of sorts to "Californication", where Dani first appeared. It was a massive hit for the group, getting to #6 on the Hot 100 and, you guessed it, topping the alternative chart.
Two other singles made the top 10 on my personal chart: "Snow (Hey Oh)" peaked at #5, and the ridiculously silly "Hump de Bump" got to #4. "Snow (Hey Oh)" is the song that stands out to me from that album cycle, but I really don't feel as fondly about any of the songs from Stadium Arcadium as I do about their previous albums.
Still, the Chili Peppers weren't going anywhere. Alternative radio certainly didn't want them to, and when they put out new music, it sure as hell was gonna get played. And that meant it was going to find its way onto my radar. We will see the Red Hot Chili Peppers again in this column.
Here's Kelly Clarkson covering "Can't Stop" on a 2023 episode of her talk show.
(Kelly Clarkson's only top 40 hit on my chart was 2013's "Catch My Breath", which peaked at #40.)
"Diamonds and Guns", the rollicking debut single from punk/hip-hop supergroup Transplants, peaked at #7 behind "Can't Stop". I'm wiggin' out, flippin' out, hearts is what I'm rippin' out.