40 years after Raw Power hit the streets and sold next to nothing, Iggy and the Stooges are back: new record, new (bass) line-up and a new chance to kill off their recording career.
Because that’s what’s on the cards, right? Failure. Get this wrong and they’re pretty much done for as a recording band.
Of course, it’s their own fault. Such is the esteem with which the Stooges, Funhouse and Raw Power are rightly held that it becomes impossible for them to release anything without baggage – reputation, legend, untouchable three-record legacy, all of this is churned about with hopes and expectation whenever anything new is mooted. The Stooges are among the most revered of all rock acts so when they got back together a few years back and flopped the anti-climactic Weirdness into our eager beaver hands, we felt burned. Not by the reunion itself but by the record. The Weirdness was a dud which did zip to ignite those Skull Ring sparks.
Since then we’ve had Ron Asheton RIP, Stooges RIP, and Iggy and the Stooges reborn featuring a guy who hasn’t played music in 30 years.
That guy is the guitarist.
What could possibly go right?
In some ways, it doesn’t matter. You can’t ignore a new Stooges album. If nothing else, IT’S THE STOOGES. And who can resist a peek at James Williamson to see if he still has those raw power kill city chops?
So here we are. Ready to Die, reunion record 2013.
Burn kicks it off.
Burn is a kick in the teeth.
Broken-glass sharp with guitars on guitars on guitars, Burn makes you feel alive – exactly what Iggy and the Stooges are supposed to do. Make you walk taller, spike your step with a swagger. Williamson’s lean production fires fast off the wax and Iggy’s voice has, at last, snuck into the right register for his lowdown cool. Iggy yelp no more. Iggy growl.
Burn is way more vital than a band of their age have any right to sound. Sure, there’s the chance that the initial listener euphoria is nothing more than post-Weirdness relief but, after many spins, Burn still burns. Just as the Stones’s Doom and Gloom this year was the sound of them somehow finding their source, so it is with Burn. Doom, however, was just one of a pair knocked up for a pre Glastonbury compilation. Iggy and the Stooges have a record to get through. Can they keep it up?
Sex and Money’s sax-driven hardrock soul, blaring along with handclaps and hip-shimmying falsetto back-up, says yes. Taut, lean and sassy, it tells you that this is the Stooges of riff AND song, not just riff. Asheton, Watt, Williamson and Mackay are up for it and Williamson, as producer and co-songwriter, surely has to take some major credit. The band sound a thousand times more alive than on the Weirdness. Coincidence? Maybe. But probably not.
Ready to Die’s clipped chords punch through multi-axe tracks, Dirty Deal is rock ‘n roll Stooge-ified, and Job spits fuck-them attitude over a Loose steal. Yep, the band are ON. What about Iggy?
Singing lower than usual but sounding better for it, the Ig’s performance has drawn less than positive comments from critics and reviewers. Weak, they say. Half arsed.
I don’t buy that. Forgetting the dubious Pop lyrics that rear up (DDs, anyone? Great tune, but…), his voice is Iggy cool throughout. By the time you get to Unfriendly World and The Departed – tracks that could have lived on Avenue B – at the record’s end, you sense weariness. A wearied cool.
Then you check the lyrics and spot that in amongst the ‘I got a job and it don’t pay shit’ Ig-isms lie themes of loss, time running out, maybe even death.
So for all of its bomb-strapped artwork, Ready to Die isn’t twentysomething nihilism with nothing to lose. That was Raw Power. Ready to Die comes from the other end of life, sung by a man whose body has finally crashed from that biology-defying superfreak peak.
Is it a parting shot? I dunno, but if it is then it wipes over the Weirdness. It’s not Raw Power II but why should it be, how can it be? If that’s what people expect, it’s the wrong attitude.
Raw Power was 40 years ago. It’s already changed lives. They can’t do it again – not for anyone who’s lived with Stooges music long enough to have it wired into their circuitry. We can’t hear them for the first time again.
But we can hear them now, in 2013, and hope – like any fan would – that Ready to Die rocks hard with a bit of the old Stooges fire. And it does.