IGGY-MANIA! NEW STOOGES ALBUM! BOOK! LIVE BOX!
THE STOOGES: ‘THE WEIRDNESS’ [Virgin]
The big news is that the Stooges are releasing their first new album since 1973’s Raw Power. The even bigger news is that, discounting the Skull Ring tracks, it’s the first Stooges album to feature Ron Asheton on lead guitar since 1970’s Fun House. After 2005’s triumphant return at Hammersmith Apollo, I was waiting with barely-concealed, and frankly childish, excitement at the prospect of the unbridled mayhem this bunch were obviously still capable of captured in a modern studio. I wanted to like it so much – and still do for the simple fact that it’s here, they’re here and there is obviously still an electric flash of creative energy flowing between Iggy, the Ashetons and original saxman Steve MacKay. But The Weirdness is sadly a case of the wait being feverish, the arrival jubilant and, after the initial euphoria at its existence has worn off, waking up with a bit of a hangover as it sinks in that not all of it hits the required spot for leap-around-Stooge-mania or – and this is impossibly-wishful thinking – careers into soul-tearing ‘L.A. Blues’ territory [For that, check out Albert Ayler’s incredible Holy Ghost set on Revenant].
So then it’s time to try and work out why. Adding it all up. Ron Asheton is a revelation throughout and must be so happy this has happened after being relegated to bassist with the arrival of James Williamson for Raw Power and spending years forlornly reflecting on how the original Stooges ceased to exist. The album is undoubtedly an affirmation of Rock Action being the ultimate high-energy stun-guitarist. Brother Scott is great too – pummelling, inventive and still capable of launching into the tricky ‘Fun House’-style patterns which elevated the band first time around. Dave Watt is a more than adequate replacement for the late Dave Alexander, although definitely not high enough in the mix. Aha! It’s the production! In the hands of former Nirvana man Steve Albini, Scott is too far back, like he’s banging away in a shed outside the studio. Ron’s napalm burn-up lead is rightfully up front but his riffs and rhythm playing is buried with Watt’s bass. In this respect, the album recalls the original lopsided mix of Raw Power.
Iggy is way up front whereas on Fun House he was screaming to be heard over the raging cacophony. He doesn’t scream much on this album, maybe the odd yelp as he enunciates the clever, often complex [for the Stooges] lyrics. There is a brilliant monster in here straining to be unleashed which is glimpsed on the screaming blowout between Ron and MacKay on ‘I’m Fried’, one of the few tracks where the album reaches the kind of full-tilt cacophony the Stooges did like nobody else. The menacing ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog-style buzz-drone riff on ‘Idea Of Fun’ – whose hook goes, ‘My idea of fun is killing everyone’ - should scythe the top of your head off. Instead it’s a malevolent ghost. Tracks like ‘You Can’t Have Friends’ and ‘Trollin’’ sound rather polite [although Iggy still manages to throw in the line, ‘my dick is turning into a tree’ on the latter]. But when Ron steams in, the dormant nasty spirit starts tossing off and spunks glorious noise, sometimes complete with wah-wah gel. If only everything wasn’t so parcelled up. Apparently Rick Rubin – famed for stripping things down to the bare necessities and packing a punch – was first choice but too busy [with U2?]. You can only dream how that combination might have turned out [Or even Jack Douglas, who did such a magnificent job on the New York Dolls’ joyful return after 32 years].
The more adventurous, subtler excursions actually work best. The title track is the album’s ballad, recalling late 70s solo Iggy show-stopper ‘One For My Baby’ as he pulls out the rich, deep resonance in his voice. Likewise, ‘Passing Cloud’ with MacKay adding to a kind of psychedelic jazz feel. They also manage to recreate the ‘No Fun’/’Shake Appeal’ handclap groove on ‘Greedy Awful People’. Another killer is ‘Mexican Guy’, which whips up that patent Stooges evil hoodoo rumble on the Bo Diddley beat which Iggy played in the Iguanas and Scott has since the earliest days of the Psychedelic Stooges. Here there are hilarious observations and reflections in Iggy’s lyrics, which have mainly swapped dumb for smart and funny.
We need war-whoops, rioting, stupidity and racket. We get a good Iggy album with nagging undertow and occasional explosions of Stoogeness with that indefinable bond between the Asheton brothers still capable of chilling the scrotal hairs. If that had been brought out more The Weirdness might have been that major and much-desired killer. We can only hope that this is just the beginning and, after the upcoming world tour, maybe Rick Rubin’s diary will have lightened up a bit.
Iggy Pop – “Where The Faces Shine (Vol 1)” (Easy Action)
Where The Faces Shine Volume One is a many splendoured thing, boasting the typical Easy Action lavish packaging with six CDs charting Iggy live between 1977 and 1981 plus booklet and tour stickers. It’s Volume One because there’s another three boxes to come, all with Iggy’s blessing and designed to coincide with Paul Trynka’s book [interviews from which are in the booklet].
At the time, these tours relied entirely on Iggy’s current state, the quality of the backing musicians and the ratio of Stooges classics to songs from the current album [and if that was any cop]. As documents of a raging talent working itself to the bone, rarely turning in a duff performance and constantly moving on, it’s essential to the Iggy fan and rollicking good fun in itself.
CD1 captures the group Bowie put together to tour soon-to-be-released The Idiot. They played their first ever gig at my local Friars Aylesbury on March 1, a great day which saw the town invaded by not only current media hotshots but members of the Pistols, Damned, Generation X and Heartbreakers. Apart from the Stooges’ gig in July 1972 at Kings Cross Scala, it was the first time the UK had witnessed Iggy live. If quite a tentative kind of set it was fantastic to see the man in the flesh, belting out faves like ‘Raw Power’, ‘TV Eye’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. His backing group was distinguished by the presence of The Idiot’s producer playing the piano: David Bowie occupied the seat behind the keyboards and most of the audience stood on that side of the hall eyeing him up. He’d always said he would return to the town where he had first metamorphosed into Ziggy Stardust five years earlier but this was a shock. Along with Low guitarist Ricky Gardiner and the Sales brothers rhythm section, Iggy had a shit-hot band which had really found its feet by the time the gig here was recorded at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom at the end of the month.
It’s dirty, crazed and Bowie emerges as a dynamite keyboards-player, hammering away on ‘Dog’, ‘Power’ and embellishing his creations on the The Idiot material. The version of ‘Turn Blue’ is an epic Iggy take on the teen ballad. Despite the power of the backing group, Iggy’s personality looms large throughout [as it does on all the sets]. He lets loose, howls, throws in rude stage announcements and sings his heart out in any number of voices. If you want a glimpse of Iggy rather than James Osterberg here’s where to look.
By November that year, Gardiner had been replaced by Stacey Haydon and Scott Thurston replaced Bowie, who was off promoting Heroes [not before they’d knocked off Lust For Life in ten days]. CD2 captures a gig at San Diego State University which is energised and nearly a different set with ‘I Got A Right’ and ‘Shake Appeal’ joining songs from the recent albums plus a ragged ‘Gloria’.
The killer in the pack is May 1978’s T.V. Eye tour on CD3, which captures Iggy in Sweden backed by Thurston plus Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. The SRB – who’ve also been represented by an Easy Action box – are everything you’d expect from a lineup which includes Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, Scott Asheton, Up bassist Gary Rasmussen and Rationals guitarist Scott Morgan. Fred’s doesn’t so much solo as deliver wailing blitzkriegs of scrambled noise attack. The supercharged Detroit attitude has rarely been captured so well as they tear through ‘TV Eye’, ‘Kill City’, ‘Lust For Life’, ‘I Got A Right’ amongst blueprints for the future New Values album. By the time it gets to the closing ‘Cock In My Pocket’, it’s Motor City high-energy rock ‘n’ roll nirvana.
By CD4’s gig at Los Angeles’ Stardust Ballroom – recorded off a KROQ radio broadcast - New Values was out and the touring band included UK punk figures Brian James and Glen Matlock, along with Ivan Kral from the Patti Smith group on guitar/keyboards and drummer Klaus Kruger. Of course playing with Iggy was any young punk’s dream so Glen had no trouble with ‘No Fun’ and Brian sounds happy as a pig in shit, blistering through sometimes-overlooked gems like ‘Real Cool Time’ and tracks from the solo albums. Iggy’s Sinatra-tribute ‘One For My Baby’ started creeping into the set around this time, showing what a great crooning voice he possessed. Meanwhile, ‘Knockin’ ‘Em Down [In The City]’ is a no-holds-barred blast with Brian excelling himself on the solo.
It should be obvious by now that Iggy was changing line-ups more often than his y-fronts [silly analogy]. CD5’s May 1980 show from Barcelona’s Picadero – promoting the Party album – only features Kral from the previous CD. In come guitarist Rob Duprey, drummer Douglas Bowne and bassist Mike Page [while Iggy makes his entrance to the’1812 Overture’]. It’s mainly recent album tracks, apart from ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. CD6 adds Richard Sohl to the lineup for a blowout in Bologna, Italy, in June 1981. This time – after declaring he’s ‘the baddest motherfucker you ever did see’ and asking for coke - he kicks off with ‘Search And Destroy’, traverses a barrage of solo stuff and crowd-surfs a great stretch of ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Gloria’. This sounds like it was mastered off a cassette but, throughout, the sound quality is generally good, sometimes live album excellent.
The first four are the killers but every insult, grunt and witty aside are another dose of Iggy Pop, untamed, running wild and – to his credit – constantly shedding skins. The SRB set is worth the price of admission anyway.
IGGY POP: OPEN UP & BLEED [Sphere]
There have been many books about Iggy Pop but none have tackled this most fascinating of subjects with the depth and understanding displayed by Paul Trynka in Open Up And Bleed. The former MOJO editor interviewed over 250 people from family, school-friends and flames to old band-mates and those with an Iggy experience to tell. Iggy himself ended up giving not only his blessing but helping out.
As a result, it’s the ultimate work on the world’s forgotten boy. A story that could easily have been as long as Redemption Song is kept lean and keen - & is all the better for it. The story is told, no doubt about that, but without judgement as it passes engrossingly from musical milestone to outrageous antic to self-imposed knock back. Trynka is first and foremost a major Stooges fan, obviously fascinated by the man beneath the blood and peanut butter. His theory is that the charming, articulate James Osterberg and berserk, self-destructive Iggy Pop are two different people. Trynka more than bears this out as the Iggy persona not only repeatedly shoots himself in the foot but blows his leg clean off.
As a rabid fan of both Iggy and the Stooges fan since 1969, I was glued, tickled and occasionally moved by what is going to be one of the great books. After setting the scene with the Stooges’ final, chaotic show on 9 February 1974 at Detroit’s Michigan Palace, Trynka goes back for a highly detailed account of Iggy’s all-important childhood. Over the years Iggy has become known as a highly intelligent, well-read and articulate individual. This comes from academic aptitude at school and a talent for public speaking that, at one point, prodded him to announce that he would run for President one day. He took up drums, the Iguanas started up playing covers and he got his name. It’s fascinating to witness the gradual transformation from All-American class livewire to the increasingly-wired exhibitionist who gains some kind of epithany from watching the newly-electric Dylan carry on oblivious to the blinkered abuse he gets from a crowd of folk purists. You find out what made the beautiful monster called Iggy Pop, with no portentious expounding or pointless theorising. It’s all based on facts, quotes and an innate grasp of the subject. Bucket-loads of stuff you never knew before.
The Mainman period is vividly described and the aborted project with the Doors camp a bit of an eye-opener. The Stooges rampant broken-glass trawl is the expected excess-fest – again with new insights on how and why ‘Jim’s mental state was plainly careening out of control’, as well as his known fixation with turning people onto the heroin needle. The most depressing chapters concern the dissolution of the Stooges – a seemingly needless self-destruction spree with the blame laid firmly at Iggy’s door, which he admits. The image of this charismatically beautiful little guy scuttling from groupie bed to gutter begging for drug-change by faking a mugging with band-aids on his face goes way past the usual fascination and sniggers at other people’s excesses. I’ve documented rock star self-abuse for years [plus my own!] but no one has ever got close to Trynka’s skilful account of the unravelling of the Stooges and Iggy’s psyche. Iggy ends up having his life saved by the LAPD, who plant him in a top mental hospital. Trynka interviews staff, thus giving the first recorded account of Iggy’s exact mental state at the time. I’m also grateful that someone has finally bigged up Ron Asheton’s essential part in the group he formed and the way he was shat on from a great height when James Williamson – the baddie here too – came in. The pain and disappointment that Ron was forced to feel as the Stooges got hijacked down the pan is palpable [as is the full extent of his obsession with Nazi memorabilia]. While we’re here, original bassist Dave Alexander gets his due too. The early Stooges were an incredible GROUP. Like the Dolls, they were snuffed by smack, full potential never touched.
The book doesn’t skim the relentless gigging years after the mid-70s David Bowie career resuscitation, either. It’s only sad that Bowie, who emerges as Iggy’s true friend, saviour and caring protector, declined to participate. With Iggy’s plethora of faults, which he can only have got away with because somebody up there obviously likes James Osterberg, the Thin White Duke is the star of the book!
It finishes with the reconvened Stooges about to record The Weirdness. After reading all this, you can only be surprised that they made it at all. You can also be thankful that Iggy [almost] died for everybody’s sins but lived while humping the nearest tree in celebration of the fact that Paul Trynka has finally nailed rock and roll’s most outrageous legend.www.randomhouse.com
Kris Needs – tMx 28 – 01/07
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