The Stooges / Fun House
hese reissues are as essential as any reissues can be, even discounting the second disc of alternate versions that comes with each—the previous CD issues sounded and looked like shit and when you’re listening to two of the most constantly confounding and amazing albums ever it’s nice to hear them nice.
The Stooges third LP Raw Power is their best known and it’s easy to know why; it’s because of the Bowie production, the more orthodox hard-rock song writing and guitar playing, and the increased focus on Iggy-as-icon. Initially however Iggy was just another Stooge, literally so, as the rear of the first LP sleeve dubbed him Iggy Stooge rather than Pop, and it’s as a unit—and against adversity—that they made this record. By rights it should have been terrible—the group was only signed as an addendum to a deal that netted MC5. The group had such a paucity of material that they needed to concoct a ten-minute filler track with producer John Cale to flesh the thing out to LP length. And there’s also the fact that they flat out couldn’t fucking play, with the rhythm section drifting way out of time and Ron Asheton having to disguise his lack of guitar prowess with constant back and forth sawing on his wah-wah pedal. Magically, except for the ten long minutes of Frank Sinatra fronting a Tibetan kids choir (“We Will Fall”) all of this worked in their favour.
One of the constant surprises of The Stooges is how pop it is, how catchy and swinging, something that dullard leather trouser wearing Iggy devotees, the dipshits that believe last-gang-in-town myth making, have never cottoned onto. Whilst the S&M aspects of “I Wanna be your Dog” are endlessly reiterated, the equally obvious fact that it’s about someone curling up with their head in their baby’s lap isn’t even noticed. This isn’t faux-tough posturing, but open and vulnerable music and as such the group know how and when to leave space and when to crowd that space with thick monophonic scrawls of fuzz. Scott Asheton’s beats are constantly inventive and are closer, with the amount of hand clapping, finger snapping and sleigh bells going on, to a Neptunes production than a contemporary rock song. (There’s a good reason why “No Fun” sounds great with Salt-n-Pepa vox mashed on top.)
Fun House is the flipside of the coin. By that point, The Stooges could play and they do so densely. They still had a childlike glee in everything that they did, but throughout the course of the album they go from being “Down on the Street” to lost in the streets. Like the debut album, the band played to the limits of their capability, but they were capable of much more. Thankfully their knowledge of when to rein themselves in, so as to temper when they let themselves go, remained.
The songs originally on side one are like a heavier, more confident version of those on the first LP. These are the well-known songs on the album, among them “Loose” and “T.V. Eye,” with its awesome, energising cry of “Laawd!” at the beginning. This is the band as white panthers and street walking cheetahs, albeit caged. On what was side two they are set free on longer tracks, especially on the paired “L.A. Blues”/“Fun House” where, with the aid of tenor sax player Steve Mackay, they engage in some non-mimetic emulation of jazz heroes like Pharaoh Sanders. Like jazz, this is music where it sounds as if you can hear the players thinking and reaching conclusions and feeling their way as they go (even if the six CD 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions box showed that there are upwards of twenty takes of most of these songs.) By the end of the album, which ends in a blizzard of noise and a twin drum-kit freak out, The Stooges are lost culturally and spiritually in the smoke and riots and confusion of Detroit and America at the dawn of the seventies, but also in the overwhelming squall and clatter of the sound that they—from nothing, from nowhere—managed to create. It seems stupid to have to say something so obvious, but energy plus intelligence plus electricity equals beauty. To have fun, you first have to acknowledge there’s No Fun. Raw fucking power.
Reviewed by: Patrick McNally
Reviewed on: 2005-08-18