Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ugly Iggy

The Stooges - The Weirdness

Oh dear, oh dear. How exactly did we get here? I steered clear of the reunion shows from The Stooges, even when they played Fun House in its entirety, largely through reluctant acceptance that I wasn’t around to see the original deal, and the shows were unlikely to recapture that wild and maverick spirit. I actually heard very good reports – but whilst the reunion should probably have been restricted to a brief moneyspinner, it has catalysed the group (minus Dave Alexander and now with Mike Watt from the Minutemen on bass) into recording a new album that is even worse than could ever be imagined.

In theory, teaming a group that were once the rawest, hardest, most visceral rock and roll group in the world with a producer as uncompromising and confrontational as Steve Albini ought to be a good idea. In fact, neither producer nor band do each other any favours. The sound is dull and muddy, with absolutely no clarity in the bottom end (and when Steve Mackay, who brought fire and fury to Fun House, appears on saxophone, Albini buries him amid the distortion), and the playing is thoroughly uninspired throughout. It’s all four-square heavy rock (without even the crisp bar band dimension of AC/DC), with virtually all the songs based on plodding drumming and thoroughly conventional riffing. Rather than the true originators of punk rock (don’t forget the debut Stooges album was released in 1969!), the new model Stooges sound like an adolescent grunge band. Even The Rolling Stones of Steel Wheels had more vitality and feel than this.

The musicians come away from this admirably when compared with their lacklustre singer though. Listening to this, it’s hard to believe that Iggy Pop was ever an iconic presence in rock. He sounds like he’s sleepwalking through this interminable material, and his frankly embarrassing lyrics don’t help much. He claims that ‘my idea of fun/is killing everyone’, sounding like he’s spent too much time in front of shoot ‘em up computer games. Much worse, on ‘Trollin’, as well as elsewhere on the album, he’s most interested in his penis: ‘I see your hair has energy/My dick is turning into a tree’. A transfer from potential to kinetic energy, maybe? Well, that’s what happens when you take those little pills the doctor gives you, Iggy! When he tries political pontificating, the results are similarly clunky. On the title track, which at least varies the pace, he impersonates Bowie in the most dreadful way imaginable – to think the two once mutually inspired each other!

Nobody can begrudge The Stooges having a little fun, but they could at least bother to make it sound enjoyable. Similarly, nobody could justifiably expect Iggy to be the drug-addled, self-lacerating sex maniac of old. Those days are gone. It’s not, however, unreasonable to expect at least some of the ambition, poise, mystery and anger that fuelled those three masterpieces. There really is nothing whatsoever to link this version of the group to its original incarnation, save its personnel. Sadly, there’s plenty (both in lyrical content and vocal performance) to link it to lacklustre Iggy solo albums like ‘Naughty Little Doggie’ and ‘Beat ‘Em Up’. The album seems to have divided critical opinion, but those who responded positively can only be making excuses. There’s nothing weird or wonderful about this, and it would be pants from pretty much anyone. For my no nonsense rock and roll thrills, I’m going to look to the new album from Dinosaur Jr. next month.

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