Review Summary: Iggy is trying to say something but amid the flurry of noise it’s difficult to make out anything let alone decipher it
I don’t care much for legacies. I’m a card-carrying (well, do t-shirts count?) devotee of the latter-day Guns N’ Roses cult and, as much as I love Jeff Buckley, it annoys me that his death has been romanticised to the degree that it has.
Even I had reservations about a fourth Stooges album, however, but not so much for the fact that it threatened to tarnish a much-polished legend; in fact, I applaud the group for resisting the lure of the KISS route and actually becoming a living, creative band. But the thought of four old dudes reunited for the first time in thirty-seven years reliving their youth while the perpetually cool Mike Watt watched on in horror was too much of a possibility. Well, I needn’t have worried on that score- The Weirdness
is definitely not a nostalgia record. The problem is that it’s not
a whole lot of other things either, important things.
The band need little introduction, and even the unfamiliar could derive most of what they need from the name. A foursome of burnouts from urban Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Stooges emerged from a cloud of smoke at the tail-end of the psychedelic era, blending the raw experimentalism of that movement with base, aggressive blues, fusing The Doors with The Who and taking cue from The Velvet Underground as much as fellow Michiganders MC5. Fun House
and Raw Power
, their second and third albums respectively, were instrumental in the formation of punk rock and subsequent forms of heavy metal, and it’s the Fun House
line-up of The Stooges, with Watt (The Minutemen, fIREHOSE) replacing the deceased Dave Alexander, that reconvened to record The Weirdness
late last year with engineer/producer Steve Albini (Pixies’ Surfer Rosa
, Nirvana’s In Utero
)- the ideal candidate to capture the same minimally-produced “live” feel as the first three albums.
Yet not even the presence of Albini is enough to breathe life into this album. In fact, he’s part of the problem. Comparisons between the latter-day Stooges and the twenty-somethings who produced Fun House
and Raw Power
are necessary, however unrealistic, if only to demonstrate the group’s capabilities against the tepid reality of The Weirdness
. The loud, speaker-busting mix of Raw Power
, which stands as tall today as one of the most brave (or most arrogant) statements ever committed to record, rightly emphasised the importance of Iggy Pop as a vocalist above the band; Albini’s mix ignores this necessary emphasis and records the band together as one muddy whole, though he’s not helped any by Iggy who, even allowing for deterioration from years of substance abuse and loud music, puts in is his worst vocal performance to date, fragile and frequently out of key- in a teenage band way, rather than anything deliberate or indicative of emotion.
The album continues the teenage theme, blowing its load embarrassingly early over the first track ‘Trollin’,’ never really recovering- and the aftermath is every bit as awkward and humiliating as one would expect. Though Iggy’s never been a particularly wordy smith, he’s always had a way of writing vivid and memorable lines with his simple tools, but if he’s still got the gift there’s little of it on show here. ‘Free and Freaky’ isn’t the worst example, but certainly deserves some sort of consolation prize as Iggy slaps together a six-word verse consisting entirely of words ending in “a,” singing “Alabama/Dalai Lama/Baby mama/Madonna/Benihana/Intifada”
with admitted conviction. ‘My Idea of Fun’ completes the thought with “is killing everyone,”
and Iggy one-ups Tom Delonge on ‘Trollin’’ as he boasts “my dick is turning into a tree.”
In ‘Greedy Awful People’ he sings “I can’t live among my class, I’m thinking only about scoring your piece of ass,”
adding a self-satisfied “I’m so crass!”
Yeah, in his position, I wouldn’t be so smug.
Cringe-worthy lines are unfortunately rampant through The Weirdness
’s (long) forty minutes but a silver lining is far more difficult to locate. ‘Trollin’’ and ‘You Can’t Have Friends’ at least kick things off with a little energy, the former sporting some delightfully wiry Harrison-esque lead guitar fills, but the initial excitement soon subsides as the riffs and one-line choruses become somewhat indistinguishable. ‘Mexican Guy’ is a highlight (again, despite the lyrics), a throwback to the spacious psychedelia of Fun House
driven by a loose Bo Diddley beat, and the title track is at least an engaging Bowie-esque blues, but it’s only temporary respite. The rest of the album plays like a foreign language soap opera: Ron Asheton can’t seem to work out whether he wants to be a two-chord wonder or Slash, and Iggy is clearly trying to say something
, but amid the flurry of noise it’s difficult to actually make out what anyone is saying, let alone decipher it.
If The Weirdness
inspires anybody to dig out any of the classic Stooges records, or even Iggy Pop’s Kill City
, it’ll be a worthwhile enterprise. And, if this review inspires anybody to skip the first step, that’s an even greater result.