The Stooges
The Weirdness
2007
C



people know Iggy Pop mainly by his abs. That, and his impossibly withered mug; someone once likened him to "a recently exhumed body builder." As his body attests, Pop is a rock 'n' roll survivor in the tradition of Keith Richards and Lou Reed. What people forget, though, is what he survived—the Stooges.

Despite constant efforts to cannibalize it (innumerable reissues, this album, and the ringtones advertised on its back cover), the Stooges' legacy is bulletproof. They were a classic case of burning twice as bright for half as long. In total, the band's three-album output lasted one hour and 45 minutes.

Historians differ as to punk's origins, but all agree that the Stooges had a hand in it. If punk had three chords and the truth, the Stooges had one chord and the middle finger, with dirty, bluesy scrapings topped by Pop's feral vocals. He was the prototypical unhinged frontman—without Iggy Pop, there would be no Axl Rose, Anthony Kiedis, Jon Spencer, or Marilyn Manson.

More than anything, the Stooges represented youth. Their iconic image is Pop as a timeless, vampiric Adonis on the cover of Raw Power. His lyrics were inane and repetitive, but the magic was in his delivery—howls, yelps, assorted animal sounds. With messy, bloody performances, the Stooges didn't require language to understand. On and off the stage, they were the greatest threats to themselves, and they disbanded in 1974. Pop went on to a long and varied solo career—but while he should age gracefully, the Stooges shouldn't.

33 years, a rock 'n' roll lifetime, have passed since then. Initial indicators for The Weirdness were good, though. Pop reenlisted the Stooges for some cuts on 2003's surprisingly spry Skull Ring. A one-off show at London's Hammersmith Apollo was rapturously triumphant. Brothers Ron and Scott Asheton still had grit on guitar and drums. Punk legend Mike Watt would replace the deceased Dave Alexander on bass, saxophonist Steve Mackay from the legendary Fun House sessions would show up, and Steve Albini would record the result.

However, The Weirdness comes off as another solid yet daffy Iggy Pop solo album. The performances are energetic, but Watt is a virtual non-factor. Albini's recording has a live vibe, but it almost sounds too good. The Stooges' trademark guitar tone was gritty, sometimes painfully so, and that edge is gone here in favor of a sturdier, more conventional distortion. Mackay sounds more '80s pop than the free jazz he used to channel, though that's really the songs' fault. Instead of psychedelic vamps to riff off of, he's stuck with ordinary rock chord progressions. His impressionistic lines turn the otherwise limp "Passing Cloud" into a swirling haze. "I'm Fried" gives him room to get his skronk on, and the results are stirring, if painfully short.

On the latter, Pop sings, "I'm fried, I'm fried, I'm fried," and he sounds like it. His voice isn't bad; he hits most of his notes. But he doesn't have the snarl that once made him so dangerous. In fact, he often sounds like Tom Petty. His lyrics are decidedly on the "miss" side of his hit-or-miss tendencies. Right out of the gate, he serves up these howlers: "Baby, baby, take a look at me / I saw your long legs riding your Lee's / I see your hair has energy / My dick is turning into a tree." It's a long, strange trip, and "Free & Freaky" is the strangest of all, rhyming "Alabama" with "Dalai Lama" and "Baby mama" completely apropos of nothing.

The biggest omission here is the blues. They were a huge part of the Stooges' sound; "Dirt" from Fun House is really a recasting of Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign." But The Weirdness abandons those menacing, one-chord grooves for standard garage rock chords. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was as lyrically challenged as anything on this album, but it dripped with atmosphere, and The Weirdness has none. It's fine, upstanding rock 'n' roll—everything that the Stooges were not.



Reviewed by: Cosmo Lee
Reviewed on: 2007-04-03
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