The Weirdness - The Stooges (Virgin)

theweirdnessFor most of the past 38 years, I ’ve been a true believer, as ready to drink the poisoned Kool-Aid as any cultist has ever been, thinking nothing of seeking the meaning of life and occasional salvation within the grooves of a Stooges record. Have to draw the line at “L.A. Blues,” though. That song just makes me anxious.

What’s most unsettling about “The Weirdness,” the first true Stooges album in over three decades, isn’t that it falls just this side of noteworthy but that the world outside of the cultural vacuum that is Detroit (and certain parts of Australia) appears to have finally caught up with the band, Madison Avenue strip mining their back catalog for advertising fodder and Hollywood scrambling to bring Iggy Pop’s squalid back pages to IMAX-quality, THX-sound fruition, stat. Or at the very least, touch the hem of his garment.

Regrettably, Iggy, Ron Asheton, and Scott Asheton are no longer our own dirty little secret, their grass roots fan base of the mentally-flummoxed, seriously drug addled, and outright violent prone - with the occasional record geek thrown in for texture - now given way to an army of whey-faced downloaders whose idea of having their collective finger on the pulse is appropriating anything with the subtle trace of the Motor City cleaving to it and filing it tidily in a folder marked “garage.” What better opportunity for the band, then, to throw the world a hanging curveball and truly live up to their reputation as the skid mark on society’s underwear, even if just for old times’ sake?

The first sign these aren’t your brother’s Stooges are the plugs for their myspace.com web site and ringtones on the back wrapper, bringing to mind images I just can’t seem to wrap my arms around: Brianna and Courtney’s cell phones parping out “Idea of Fun” while they swap links for photos of that hottie Jimmy Osterberg, sipping an energy drink and rocking the Fall Out Boy on the iPod. Someone shoot me now…

It seems The Stooges were laboring under the impression when they wrote this album that Virgin was paying them by the word, guitar chord, and drum beat because it’s one busy, claustrophobic affair, Iggy tub thumping with one eye on the studio wall clock, falling ass over tea kettle to riff on whatever crosses his radar before the tape runs out. The vaunted production of Steve Albini, in combination with whoever fumbled the mix job, doesn’t leave much breathing room for the tribal drums and wah pedal violation that made “The Stooges” and “Fun House” so overwhelming. Where’s Don Gallucci when you need him?

And therein lies one of the problems with the post-maturity droop version of The Stooges: nary a groove in sight. Even the most hopelessly drooling, mouth-breather could tap his feet along to “Down on the Street” or “No Fun.” And where’s the build-up, the tension? As soon as the “record” button’s pushed, the singer goes from 0 to Iggy in mere nanoseconds.

Part of what made these guys so damn lovable - not to mention liberating - the first time around was their knack, whether authentic or a guise, for STOOPID. “And now I’m gonna be 22/I say oh my and a boo-hoo,” anyone? Here it seems so forced, Iggy all too proud to expose his grey matter going up in flames, the smoke punching another hole in the ozone layer. Are we really to believe he spends that much time thinking about ATM’s? Or anything else? What a concept!

It’s not that “The Weirdness” is that deplorable, but it’s a wooden stake through the heart of the 12-year-old Stooges fan that still beats in my chest to see them playing it so safe, Iggy’s tenancy in Miami and daily regimen of tai chi, macrobiotics, and nothing more toxic than a few glasses of Bordeaux apparently a bit less inspirational than psychedelics, life in a Midwestern college town, and breaking bread with the MC5.

For the casual listener who’s not carting the staggering amount of emotional Stooges baggage as yours truly, someone willing to step out from under the long, dark shadow they’ve cast over two generations now and into the light, there may very well be plenty on “The Weirdness” to recommend. I just can’t seem to remember where I put my sunglasses. - Clark Paull

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OK, let’s get some perspective on this one.

Forget the Detroit-drugs-and-glamsploitation backstory. Forget that they invented punk back in ’71, when the world at large had written ‘em off for a lost cause and was diggin’ prog ‘n’ boogie. Purely on its own terms, this rekkid is what it is: a band of AARP eligibles playing hard, aggressive, angry-sounding, non-hyphenated rock’n’roll. If that sounds like an oxymoron, tell it to Link Wray, if you can find him. Who the fuck else is doing that in 2007? At least on the major label/festival circuit level? (And I’m someone who generally could give a rat’s ass what’s happening in the music world outside my local.) No one else. Only the Stooges. They still stand alone, just like they did in ’73 and ’70 and ’69.

Since the reunion that nobody thought would happen DID happen back in 2003, they’ve toured the world, from Europe to Japan to the Antipodes, and cashed in for all the bands and rockcrits that started namechecking almost immediately after they imploded back in ’74. In doing so, they attained a level of tightness (NOT slickness) and focus to match (sone would even say surpass) the monomaniacal fury of their youth. Clean and healthy, they can wipe the floor with bands less than half their age. If this was a new band, we’d all be doing handsprings and cartwheels and hailing the arrival of a new, um, Stooges. But because there are ghosts present (the ones of Iggy ‘n’ the Ashetons’ earlier selves), a different yardstick gets applied.

Compared to the canon, how does it measure up? While it doesn’t have the inadvertent pop sense (and hyper-clean postmodern production sound) of The Stooges, it also doesn’t have a 10-minute song that everybody (admit it) skips through after the first time they spin the rec. It doesn’t have the slinky, sexy acid-funk menace of Funhouse, but how could it? That was the sound of trailer trash losers and no ‘count mama’s boys finding their balls and learning their craft by pounding big stages coast-to-coast. The best moments on that album were accidents that they couldn’t replicate now, even if they wanted to, because 37 years down the road, they’re too skilled; have been for years, which means you get a level of consistency accompanied by a reliance on muscle memory that wasn’t present in those earlier embryonic stages. Rock Action has been slamming the same solid four-on-the-floor since Sonic’s Rendezvous Band daze, and while Ron Asheton hasn’t added any new tricks to his trick bag since around Destroy All Monsters time, he hasn’t needed ‘em, either – why add to perfection?

The Weirdness doesn’t have Funhouse’s totally organic live sound, either; rather, the rec it resembles the most, sonically speaking, is evabody’s least favorite Stooges album, Raw Power, specifically the 1997 Iggy remix. It’s a wall of noise without a lot of bottom end, although repeated listenings reveal more sonic detail than seemed to be there the first time. (How many times did you have to listen to Raw Power – either mix – before you realized how weak the bass and drums sounded?) The songs here hit the same way Raw Power’s did, too – have the same relentless forward motion, although they’re simpler than Williamson’s most complex chord constructions. They go straight for the throat.

If Iggy doesn’t have the same feel for the Zeitgeist as a pampered 60-year-old that he had as a 20something drug punk, is that really so surprising? And while there’s no “streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm” here, some of the Ig’s more silly-ass verbal constructions, replete with self-aggrandizement and pop culture references, are surely no sillier than “I took a ride on a red hot weiner.” Stooges lyrics, even at their most perceptive and smart-dumb, were always just a SOUND. Being a drummer his own self, Iggy understands that every instrument is a rhythm instrument, including your voice. He only rolls out the annoying Bowie opera-voice on two out of 12 songs, and even those are starting to grow on me.

Bottom line: If you’re new to the Stooges, you donwanna start here – get the classics first. But if you’re one of US, who willingly endured 23 takes of “I’m Loose” and all of Bomp’s barrel-scrapings, then you should see this as a godsend. I was prepared not to like this rekkid. Nasty narrowminded jade that I’ve become, I figured Ig and the Asheton boys were just making bank, which is fine – they’ve certainly earned it over the years. But this really is Something Entahrly Other. It’s more than we had a right (any old time) to expect, a logical progression from where they left off, untainted by the stench of compromise, and in 2007, that is a damn rare thing. Bloodied but unbowed, the world’s forgotten boys stand up on their hind legs and roar, one more time. - Ken Shimamoto

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THE STOOGES FIGHT POVERTY IN SECRET!

the price

Well, there’s this. Day of release, I head down to the Virgin store on Market Street, figuring (correctly) they would have their master’s product at the best price. Sure enough, I get my copy of THE WEIRDNESS for a mere $10.00 USA. Plus tax.

For those of you keeping score at home, at today’s rates, that’s €7.63, £5.16, AU$12.84 and 70.65 SEK. If you need it in Japanese currency, I can’t satisfy that yen --- it’s too volatile right now.

but what a bargain. a full-on Stooges long-player, after a long play of 33 or 37 years, take yr. pick. At just two seconds over 40 minutes, it completely shuts down the hour-plus ooze emanating from the long-named weepy bands of today, no matter how much they fall out to clap their hands in the stone age black fire. Still, that’s just .24/cent per second, or something like that, you figure it out.

the package

It was 1982 when Buick, aka the ‘old man’s division’ at General Motors, the Detroit car concern, came out with their Regal Grand National. The latter day muscle car coupe with the post-breakdown rococo design was transformed by huge turbo charging, and only available in a wicked all black costume. It would appear in years later from time to time, but always only that barely glossy spread-on wet black finish.

If you too got in early on THE WEIRDNESS you know that same finish is all about this CD. There’s a small sliver of chrome framing the front page and the boys on the back, and our most distinctive logo of the late 20th century (did anybody ever get credit for that?) also shines but the rest is slathered on black. It’s a texture more than a design.

And by the way, on the Grand National the rear spoiler was only available as a dealer installed option.

the process (sound)

If you didn’t have the scratch, or maybe you’re just a cheap nerd saving up for Windows Vista or vintage vinyl and “downloaded” (hey, I do that every morning) your copy of THE WEIRDNESS via some compression thing, you’ve missed out. This disk slipped out like Iggy’s hip, recorded live and to the point, a mix meant to be OUT LOUD, like a Stooges show for example. You’ve got to take a ride on the music, and you can’t do that in private on a podcast. The Asheton Bros. grew up inside each other’s sound, OUT LOUD, and the record is all that. Whatever Albini’s studio at the other (Chicago) end of I-94 added, this sound starts long ago with experiments and experience in and on stage, live, in front of people and everything from those people, and adding the 75 worldwide gigs the, err... mature band has played in the 21st century. This is sonic sophistication not just songwriting. The drums are nothing but Rock Action, with maybe one or two gratuitous fills, and they sound purely great. In combination with his brother’s steely shards of soundscape, bouncing from channel to channel, we get an almost elemental swing. At times an entire song functions as a giant call & response completely inside itself, especially adding Iggy’s emphasis. The world’s forgotten boy premier front man does surely present a visual scheme that can’t be done, recording-wise, but lyrics can be there, no matter how couched deliberately by a survivor’s intellect.

Recorded live, and maybe made up on the spot with all hanging out, there’s plenty of encouragement from a guy who’s not afraid to challenge conventional expectations of basso profundo rockism singing. goddamn it, it’s a throat. So from a sublime opening grunt to final fry-dom, there’s plenty of hey, hey’s, yeah’s, and wordless wonder.

We can thank the knob-twiddler for hearing all of that.

the picture (lyrics and ‘tude)

And make no mistake, knob twiddling comes up hot ‘n heavy, from the cut that leads off THE WEIRDNESS “Trollin’” , about that favorite pastime of the older world-weary type, fishing, not to mention of course seeking the fountain of pussy juice youth. Iggy launches the whole thing with a natural world metaphor about wood that’s gotten so much press, and seems determined to carry on, loose, to the final 40th minute, because after all -- you can’t tell him it’s not a suave thing to do - I know you do it too. And rock critics don’t like it at all.

He should believe in honey flowing from the rock but it ain’t been that way for our hero.

The ATM song manages to spit out about money like everybody in the West knows by now, but out of mid-point maelstrom the lyric rises as a brilliant star with sheer garage grace - “in the midnite hour .... when the truth comes down .... I don’t need no doctor ... hangin’ around ... can I get a witness ... can I come on strong ...” Nobody else would dare sing that stuff today, that way, not even a soul singer. Especially combined with Ron outrageously splitting the right channel, the syncopation of Scott’s sock, the Stooges fight poverty in secret. Don’t bullshit the bullshitter. This song proves Iggy deserved that French medal, if he still has it. Maybe it’s on the dashboard of his Rolls.

If that’s enough, we get the details on an idea of fun. Perhaps its the unsmoothified vocal tone that turned ‘em off on MySpace (awwwww), but if Iggy can’t comment on America’s growing up shamed, who can? Rock hits killing everyone hard, and a grand symphonic sturm und drang lays out another dual channel sonic lead adventure by Ronald Frank Asheton that plays right to today’s news. Did you really want to hear a song about a high school romance from Mr. Pop?

I can go on, and probably will, if the Bar is still open, but these songs keep coming on strong. THE WEIRDNESS title cut sways in a little too much, but with a beautiful new tone that was probably invented fresh along with Ron’s latest custom axe. As a love story the song might sound as good in Spanish as it sounds. Once again, it’s a mature theme that just about saved your correspondent’s life today at work. The sing-song close gives being weird roots and finally Mackay’s soulful sax reflection reminds us to stay strong.

Y’all reading this where the great highways don’t all begin in “I” may not like hearing about being free ‘n freaky in the USA. But once again Rock Action has it in the pocket like nobody else can but him, before JIM drifts around and moans about being nasty. And USA comes to the old mold and just wants more, busts it open in fact with a blurting off-chorus guitar blast. It’s their fault the beer ain’t cold! To make sure you get the message, here comes simple rhyme about the issues and tissues today, all laid out with that blister Fender attack. Rock ‘n roll is American music! So if you don’t get this, send us your money. We’ll use it to buy gas.

That could make Iggy feel more comfortable but if he can’t hack his income, he’ll go back to your ass. European or not. Playing live it’s got to be psychedelic, if the money don’t count (and it doesn’t, do you really think Stooges care about their cut of the ring tones – they just care about the ring tones). Every instant lead gets ruined, Asheton’s gonna cry about it like nobody else.

Okay, we get the breakup song, but that’s just because Mr. Up Front Dirty is starving like an unsung bard. Still, the Singer is convincing us along with Rock’s unison chorus, done up in deep rock revenge. And more unsinging, backed up by maybe the one non-Stooge cherub Benson. He sounds OK, not alright – it’s a breakup. Iggy does some more R&B with an uncoupled couplet of urging pushed on by more brilliant Ron and more tenor saxman Steve to provide brass roots to the vox. And Watt is SO there, he’s got the goods to update Stooge swing. Way to go, Watt!

Next up, an apocalyptic grindathon trumpets the end of cross and double cross worship with what else other than more short shorts sex talk, set off with syncopatic lyrics and repetition inside the verse, inside the chorus, inside the bar, inside Ron’s tone. These guys are at the top of their game, they are playing it all. You don’t get to hear that often, most acts are too busy making sure they play their notes, not their sound. Or at least they think it’s their notes. Don’t they usually sound like everybody else’s?

Let’s not beat a dead horse, although the singer’s styling rap as we head toward the out grooves (how WILL this sound on vinyl’s endless vibration?) flogs convention for sure. But then with a simple respectful aside, Iggy sets Ron up perfectly for his career understated patented atmosphere thing, which only enhances the line about brain police. This is all the way live, it comes off gen-u-wine. Only the hairdresser knows for sure.

the end

Should you still be reading, enough. Life’s tough in the city, ain’t it?

Stooges achievement is here today and you might not even recognize it in a passing cloud. Is there a light in your window? At least give it a try.

Have you seen the show? Word is they’ll play a grand total of 4 of these new songs. This is a band to hear, with friends and strangers and stranger strangers... LOUD. In front of you and around you.

THE WEIRDNESS a recording that records a moment in Miami, in Ann Arbor, Chicago, London, Buenos Aires, Ancient Greece, wherever else in a summer air of the political and geographic and historic earth, one among the many, together and in memory together, a sonic reminiscence brought along to us

Here today.

THE STOOGES FIGHT POVERTY IN SECRET!

so you don’t have to. - ig ("eye-gee")

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How I wanted to love this album. First one in 33 years blah blah blah. First one in 37 years if you track things back to this line-up. Maybe the expectations based on what had gone before were much too high, but I can't help thinking that the most striking thing about "The Weirdness" is that it's so ordinary.

Ordinary songs, ordinary production. Steve Albini's reputation behind the board is for playing it laissez faire - turn it up and let the tape roll - which probably suited his Igness down to the ground. You can make a case that Iggy should have dropped his own control freak complex and ceeded control to someone who could give a few orders. Some quality control was badly needed. Mike Watt's the consummate bassist but his thud is M.I.A. in this soundspace. Rock Action's drums are desert dry and quite up front, but Ron Asheton's guitar has been relegated to a scuzzy rhythm bed with his all-important wah-wah leads compressed to within an inch of their life.

But the weakest link (apart from the tunes) is Iggy's vocal. The Stooges may have been rock and roll's most nihilistic, slothful, dumbed-down band - the antithesis of suburban boredom and a template for what would be eventually be described as punk - but you can't turn the clock back and sound like a terminal loser if you live in relative luxury in Florida, drive a Rolls Royce and enjoy fine wines. Iggy sounds like he's trying to feign dumbness/futility and it just isn't working. Half the vocals sound like guide tracks, the rest so studiously disinterested at times as to be absurd.

A few people I know have heard this album and their comments have ranged from "it's no worse than a lot of his solo albums" to "it's OK". Me, I don't give a fuck that Iggy should have died a thousand times or has been through the fires of self-induced scum drug hell to still be with us today, a testimony to the powers of human resilience and/or dumb luck. That's fine and I'm happy he made it, but he (they) needed to take some chances of a musical kind. I wanted to hear molasses thick layers of guitar and awe-inspiring solos, the foundation thud of Rock Action's kick drum and singing that, if not entirely unhinged, at least points to some darker malevolence. Songs about consumerism, ATMs, trolling for girls and cash don't cut it. Iggy needed to be angry, rail at the state of the music industry, the crappiness of the toys they give you with kids meals at McDonalds or the cattle class quality of US domestic airline travel. He just sounds moderately bummed out.

You can take a few of these songs at face value ("Idea of Fun") and run down the lyrics ("My idea of fun/Is killing everyone") for being too self-consciously nihilistic. The opener "Trollin' " is a taut rocker with a bit of swing. The title track is the obligatory crooner with some nice askew guitar underneath. "Greedy Awful People" sounds like an Iggy & the Trolls outake that simply grates so much that Ron Asheton's muted solo doesn't have a hope in hell of saving. "The End of Christianity" is too lyrically banal for words. At least "Mexican Guy" has a groove to it.

Let's switch to the Big Picture and the problem is this: The Stooges were defined by their environment and how they reacted to it. They really were the original musical slackers, at times inept but never fake. Everything's changed since then - including the players - but there's no real centre to these songs, no unifying force other than the desire to make another record. They tried to make it a great one and didn't get there.

The Stooges of 1970 were psychedelic and drug-fucked. (N.B. "Drug fucked" does not necessarily equate to "great music".) The Stooges 2007 are clean and a very good, metal-tinged punk band. Some people say Sum 41 is too. The Stooges are still probably better than 90 percent of whatever else is out there, but they ain't the same as they were. I didn't want them to be - but I did want them to play on the things that could still make them different. Like Steve Mackay's sax, which makes only fleeting appearances (notably on "The Weirdness".) Or Ron Asheton's incandescent solos. Speaking of, did I read the New York Times online story right when it quoted Rock Action as saying the new record shouldn't have too many solos or it would sound like everyone else (and the writer opining that too many had made it to tape?) Pass the smelling salts...

I'll still play "The Weirdness" and I'll be at the Stooges shows if they make it down my way. - The Barman

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Tags: iggy pop, stooges, weirdness

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