Iggy & The Stooges
Ready To Die
, April 29th, 2013 08:49
OK, so let's the get the obvious out of the way, shall we? Ready To Die ain't no Raw Power in any shape or form, but then again it was never going to be. Even now Iggy and the Stooges' 1973 classic remains a sonic onslaught, and it still sounds like the logical conclusion of an idea first birthed in the 1950s along with the rise of the teenager. With amplifiers cranked to the max as they strained under James Williamson's lightning fast and dexterous shredding of riffs that would forever burn themselves into the very psyche of rock & roll, Raw Power set a benchmark that subsequent generations of musicians – or a high proportion of them - have failed to even comprehend, let alone achieve.
Of course, it would have all amounted to nothing without the songs. Gloriously nihilistic, these anthems didn't so much blow a raspberry to the adult world as take a huge dump on its well laid-out coffee table. In 'Search & Destroy' the band created an X-rated version of 'Blue Suede Shoes', an image of angry youth prowling the streets as it sneered at the limited options available to it, while the likes of 'Gimme Danger' inverted balladry into something seedy, rotten and corrupt.
It couldn't and didn't last. A combination of fraught personalities, terrifying levels of drug consumption and inept management conspired to bring Iggy & the Stooges crashing down to earth – or at least, driving a double-decker bus into a low-lying bridge.
Of course, we been here before, albeit in the form of the reformed Stooges – that'll be Iggy Pop with Ron and Scott Asheton and Mike Watt on bass, and Steve Mackay honking away on sax – and the resulting album, 2007's Steve Albini-helmed The Weirdness, was a stinker so putrid that it felt like the windows thrown open to get rid of the foul stench could never be closed again. Never mind the musicians who couldn't match the band's own lofty standards - even the Stooges were incapable of doing so.
The unexpected death of guitarist Ron Asheton in 2009 should have put paid to any further endeavours, but the involuntary retirement of James Williamson from his role as a senior vice-president of technology standards at Sony found the band being given another lease of life. Newly re-born, Iggy and the Stooges' 2009 shows at the Hammersmith Apollo are seared into the memory thanks to performances that belied both the band's age and the fact that Williamson hadn't touched his guitar in nearly three decades. Showing no mercy, Williamson's brutal attack was elevated by a creepy physical transformation midway through the gig, when he stopped looked like a former corporate executive who'd won a competition to jam with his favourite band, and went back to scowling like his Skull persona of the early 70s.
Perhaps they should have left it at that, and carried on playing live while they still had the stamina and gumption to fuck shit up night after night after night. And why not? If any band has earned the right to live off of a cultural contribution that remains undiminished over the decades, then it's Iggy & the Stooges. But the news that they'd decided to record an album of new material rather than trawling through the many bootlegged outtakes and jams brought about a mild tingle of excitement, coupled with a jolt of fear that evoked the memory of The Weirdness.
So yeah, it ain't no Raw Power. But once you get your head around the fact that it rightfully doesn't even attempt to imitate its antecedent, and really is more a belated sequel to Pop and Williamson's 1977 album Kill City, then this is, in places, a pretty damn good rock & roll record. There's little doubt that if it had been billed as a solo Iggy album then hosannas would surely follow, because Ready to Die contains some pretty convincing moments. Opener 'Burn' augurs well, as Williamson, Asheton, Watt and Mackay drop straight into the action, and there's a rare joy to be had in hearing the guitarist's multi-layered contributions. Clearly, the years sat in the boardroom have done little to diminish his natural talent. His playing may be slower than the furious pace he set 40 years ago, but Williamson's innate understanding of his instrument and the technical opportunities offered by the recording studio are on clear display.
Similarly, 'Job' and 'Sex & Money' highlight his talent and virtuosity, as his playing variously snakes, grooves, pushes and pulls in all directions. Best of all is 'Gun', a meditation (if such a concept can be used when discussing Iggy & the Stooges) on America's fascination with violence and its ramifications on both domestic and international stages, which finds the band creating a latter day minor classic. Its opening slashing and multi-tracked chords recall a snot-nosed 'Suffragette City', before detonating into an explosion of salacious rhythms and howling lead guitar.
Ready to Die also offers some unexpected and satisfying moments of tenderness. 'Unfriendly World', underpinned by Williamson's considered acoustic work, finds Iggy facing the cruel realities of life, while elsewhere 'The Departed' confronts the inevitability of mortality with an honesty that would've seemed inconceivable in the 1970s.
Curiously, the album's shortcomings manifest themselves through some of Iggy's lyrical concerns. Where once a track like 'DDs', a paean to big breasts and Pop's love of them, would induce a smirk and dismissal of a rock star's more juvenile impulses, here it causes an embarrassed shake of the head: he comes across more as dirty old man than lovable reprobate. And while 'Dirty Deal' feels like the kind of filler that landed half-formed during a jam session, there's comfort to be had from Pop's voice, which variously alternates from a soft baritone croon to his characteristic sneer.
Ready to Die does much to atone for the sins of its predecessor, and its highlights will doubtlessly sit comfortably in their ongoing and still combustible - if physically damaged - shows. It's not going to replace the band's first three peerless albums in your affections, and the chances of frequent revisits after its initial satisfying of curiosity are low. But that those occasional visits will elicit far more pleasure than pain is, at this stage in the game, no bad thing.