THE way The Stooges carried on in the late 1960s and early 70s, living and performing on the edge, it’s a wonder there weren’t more premature fatalities.
Iggy and the Stooges: Ready to Die
Fat Possum, £13.99
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Three quarters of the founding members – the Asheton brothers and incorrigible mainman Iggy Pop – made it out alive and as far as the initial reunion ten years ago, where they proved their potency with a series of incendiary gigs.
With the passing of guitarist Ron Asheton four years ago, his successor James Williamson, who first joined the group in 1970 and played on Raw Power, has returned and so, therefore, has the specific incarnation Iggy And The Stooges which recorded that crazed classic – an album cited by Kurt Cobain and Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, among many others, as a key influence.
Williamson retired from rock’n’roll at the turn of the 80s and spent 30 years in Silicon Valley but, now that he has returned from corporate exile, it transpires that playing the guitar is a bit like riding a very powerful bike, and Williamson makes his mark on the blunt 35-minute dispatch of Ready To Die, even in the august company of drummer Scott Asheton, bassist Mike Watt, a hero to the next generation of punk kids, saxophonist Steve Mackay and, of course, the Igster himself.
It is Williamson, in particular, who comes blazing out the traps on opening track Burn, with characteristic melodic, molten, metallic riffola to complement Iggy’s gothic baritone vocal, tolling its warning and occasionally rising with a sense of urgency. It’s an impressive way for a bunch of sixtysomethings to lay down the law.
MacKay’s reptilian sax joins the party on Sex and Money (chorus: “sex and money”), a gonzo garage number supplemented with handclaps and Bowiesque backing vocals which promise dark mischief. Iggy appears at his most unreconstructed on DDs, a paean to the mystical allure of big boobs (real or fake, he’s not fussy) which, he claims, are “symbolic of a good atmosphere”. Iggy has allowed himself to become something of a caricature of late – literally, in the case of that puppet in the car insurance ads – but somehow, he manages to come away from this Motown-inspired stomp without sounding like a dirty old man. I guess you could call it charm.
But, in terms of real verve, that’s about it. Beat That Guy opens with chiming guitar, ends on another solo, but never really takes off.
The self-centred protagonist of Job expresses similarly disaffected sentiments to I’m Bored from 1979’s New Values, the last album Iggy and Williamson completed before this reunion, but the chorus is as monotonous as the job he is decrying.
Gun is another example of functional, primitive truculence, as if Iggy is ticking off all the old nihilistic themes, although his seemingly simplistic, adolescent lyrics – “if I had a f***ing gun, I could shoot at everyone, freaking out in the USA” – are as topical now as at any time in his career, and provide an element of sly, pugnacious commentary: “money is a waste of time … course I made sure I got mine.”
However, Iggy also draws a line from youthful arrogance through mid-life crisis to old age with a couple of examples of his rather disturbing crooner mode. He describes himself as a parched old magazine on the croaky Unfriendly World, singing from the perspective of a tired old guy who’s seen it all before: “hang on to your girl, cos this is an unfriendly world” is his ambivalent conclusion.
He offers more rudimentary advice on the forgettable Dirty Deal – read the small print of life, kids – and gets fired up along the same lines on the title track. Ready To Die is not an expression of meek acceptance, more of the intention to go out in a blaze of glory, but the music is tight and controlled. An economical solo from Williamson comes to an abrupt finish. Like the last episode of The Sopranos, it invites speculation – what happens to Iggy And The Stooges next?
What happens is they move on to the next track. The closing credits of this album are given over to The Departed, a country-tinged elegy for Ron Asheton, bookended with a tantalising burst of the I Wanna Be Your Dog riff on slide guitar, on which Iggy sounds genuinely fragile as he sings “by the end of the game we all get thrown under the bus”.
Make no mistake, there is still a place for Iggy and his Stooges in popular music – the man’s a one-off and a law unto himself, which is always to be applauded – but there are just as many rote moments on this latest comeback incarnation as there are causes for celebration.