The Stooges were a commercial disaster who have nevertheless influenced countless bands. They were among the first of the so-called "proto-punk" rock bands (along with fellow Detroiters the MC5), and their wild, violent, cataclysmic mess of a sound has never been duplicated, though many have tried. Although singer Iggy Stooge (later known as Iggy Pop) receives most of the credit for the band, and he clearly was the primary focus of their legendarily debased live performances (where he was known to cut himself with glass and spread peanut butter all over himself!), on The Stooges his simple (dumb even) lyrics focus on disaffected youth topics such as boredom (one song is called "No Fun") and lust, while his singing vividly mimics Mick Jagger and at times Jim Morrison. Impressive though his performance generally is, it’s really his mates that make this debut album such an underground classic. Scott Asheton’s wild, pounding drum assaults lock in with Dave Alexander’s menacing bass to create primitive, exciting grooves that are often metallic in nature but are also capable of swinging as well in creating an environment of organized chaos. Amidst this loose, jammy mess screams the crazed, distorted guitar runs of Ron Asheton (Scott's brother). His sloppy, dirty, incredibly raw guitar lashings kick these raging songs into sonic overdrive, generating an undercurrent of spontaneity and dark excitement that's difficult to describe and even harder to top. If these boys were competent musicians it would just ruin it; their amateurishness creates outrageousness, making The Stooges a great album to listen to if you're in a caveman sort of mood. Produced by legendary former Velvet Underground alumnus John Cale, these loud garage rock songs flat-out rock, highlighted by the 1-2 punch of "1969" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog," the latter probably the band's most famous song. The album’s lone misfire is the 10+ minute waste of time “We Will Fall,” which takes up almost 1/3 of the album and whose Gothic mantras are torturously dull.
Fun House (Elektra ’70) Rating: A+
This unholy quartet roared back with a follow up that made their debut seem almost tame by comparison, with one of the dirtiest, scuzziest mixes in rock history and Iggy’s authoritative voice (no more Mick Jagger imitations) leading the way (simply put, Iggy really comes into his own here and his vocal performance on this album is among my favorite of all-time). Fun House is peak Stooges in all their grimy, decadent glory, with Iggy screaming deep thoughts like “stick it deep inside” or “out of my mind on Saturday night” while the rhythm section drive relentless, repetitive grooves into the ground. The bristling energy is so alive that you can ignore how repetitive much of the music is, especially when Iggy lets loose another blood curdling scream or Ron Ashteon unleashes a furious guitar solo that all but blasts out of your stereo speakers. Brother Scott Asheton simply pulverizes his drum kit, creating with bassist Dave Alexander chaotic, turbulent grooves dripping with menace. The first five songs are fantastic, but while the first half of the album contains bluesy cuts such as the intense leadoff track “Down On The Street” and the atmospheric, dirge-like 7-minute epic “Dirt,” the album’s second half is a more experimental, at times defiantly avant-garde trip that shows The Stooges to be even more than the inspired Neanderthals I thought they were (though in truth that's not always a good thing). Here secret weapon Steven MacKay is unleashed, and his wailing saxophone joins Asheton’s screaming guitar outbursts alongside Iggy’s demented screams and the swinging rhythm section on “1970” (arguably the greatest Stooges song though “Dirt” and the explosive earlier "T.V. Eye" are also in the running) and “Fun House.” Perhaps the over-long latter track is a bit too jam-based, but it's a cool jam even if it's not much of a song (plus Iggy had already told us he "feels alright" on "1970!"). Besides, that song sounds structured compared to the free jazz meltdown of “L.A. Blues,” a psychotic all-instrumental (aside from some shrieks here and there) excursion that's either exhilarating or unlistenable depending on my mood. It's better than “We Will Fall” in any event, and those first five songs alone (also including Iggy's promiscuous theme song "Loose") make Fun House the definitive Stooges album.
Raw Power (Columbia ’72, '97) Rating: A
After sluggish sales caused The Stooges to be dropped by Elektra Records, they would’ve faded into oblivion were it not for David Bowie, who got the band (now rebranded Iggy & The Stooges) to regroup and produced their next album, the appropriately titled Raw Power. Over the years Bowie must’ve wondered if it was worth the trouble, since his infamously muted mix has been the cause of innumerable derogatory comments and caused him much grief over the years. Though his production does have its fair share of problems, the energized performances of the revamped Stooges (with James Williamson added on lead guitar, Scott Asheton again on drums, and Ron Asheton moving over to bass for the departed Dave Alexander, whose excessive drinking ultimately led to his death in 1975 at the age of 27) results in another improbable classic. Williamson gives Iggy a songwriting foil and more blaring guitar outbursts (though he's also a more traditional lead player than Asheton was), Iggy has further developed his distinctive (if at times annoying) vocal mannerisms, and the scuzzy rhythm section wails away (unfortunately thanks to Bowie) in the background. Regardless of the albums sonic faults and occasionally faulty songwriting (I'm not particularly fond of "Penetration" or "Shake Appeal"), Raw Power is still a stone cold classic that would later prove highly influential even though few people cared about the album or the band at the time. Highlights include "Search and Destroy," which does indeed destroy all in its path, "Gimme Danger," which presents a mellower, more atmospheric, damn near exotic and decidedly more sophisticated (and dare I say Doors-y) Stooges, "I Need Somebody," a slower stomper with a charismatic vocal (I bet The White Stripes were big fans of this one), and "Death Trip," which is all about its howling vocals and great raging guitar runs. Williamson's wild, overdriven guitar leads also elevate "Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell" (Iggy's lyrics aren't exactly open to interpretation) and the title track, as again there are far more hits than misses here. Don't get me wrong, this kind of stuff isn’t for everyone (and never was), and Bowie’s mix does take some getting used to. Eventually, when you learn to live with the album’s deficiencies and are able to ignore the hype behind the band’s legendary reputation, all that matters is that The Stooges again delivered a brutal sonic assault that delivers pure, unadulterated raw power. Thank you, Mr. Bowie. Now about that mix... Note: Raw Power was remastered by Iggy in 1997, bringing back the band’s bottom end. Iggy's incredibly loud mix is much heavier and in your face than the thin Bowie mix, but it's almost overpoweringly so at times, as Bowie's mix is more subtle and cohesive on the whole. So, both versions have their significant faults, though on the whole I prefer and typically listen to the original Bowie mix (this is especially true with headphones, as the over modulated Iggy mix is all but unlistenable with headphones). Note: The band's 2007 reunion album, The Weirdness, with Asheton back on lead guitar and Mike Watt on bass, is best left unheard (i.e. it sucks) while celebrating their classic original trilogy instead.
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