Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Weirdness is Here.

It would be beyond redundant at this point to mention that The Weirdness is the first Stooges album since Raw Power, that Mike Watt’s replaced the late Dave Alexander on bass, or that “the wah” is back. The facts are now stated. The Weirdness is no doubt a disappointment, and that’s to be expected with a comeback - several reunions from the last couple years will provide a pattern that fails to test this. What is interesting about the record, more than the record itself, unfortunately, is the approach that a lot of critics are taking with regard to it. For one, The Austinist offered a lot of unfortunate truth about the unmet expectations placed upon the band, and however cynical, articulated the disappointment factors well. And of course, there was the expected “let’s make a statement” nonsense that Pitchfork pulled with the 1/10 score it granted the album. Never mind that the review was delivered fairly reasonably and that the score itself was probably chosen by someone other than the writer; realistically, The Weirdness is a 5/10, nothing to cringe at but nothing to swoon over, and I say this as someone without the Influential Critic role to fill.

The first taste of The Weirdness came with single “My Idea of Fun,” a bland rocker that could technically be pulled off by any modern throwaway act. But it becomes a bit more interesting, a bit smarter, when you line up the song next to one with similar theme and opposing viewpoint, Stiff Little Fingers’ “Wasted Life” from 1979. In “my idea of fun is killing everyone,” Iggy’s got an inadvertent spin on “killing isn’t my idea of fun” from “Wasted Life” – there are only so many words, antonyms, and methods of disagreeing when you’re limited to the English language, aren’t there? But Iggy’s throwing out a sarcastic take on the war perspective, acting as American President ready for action, a contrast to Jake Burns as civilian out of favor. A young Burns led up to his line by growling “stuff their fucking armies” through his teeth, though, and when Iggy delivers his encompassing idea with “now is the season for war with no reason,” he fails to execute with urgency because, well, he can’t. But then Iggy yells “attention thrills/and then it kills/then make you king/then make you ill/til’ you’re alone/dead on your throne,” and then you start to wonder whether the song’s about Dubya or Elvis.

Meanwhile, there’s “Free and Freaky,” which will certainly play background to a US Army commercial or intro to a coming of age MTV movie in the next few years. Between this and “Greedy Awful People,” you’re reminded of the aging process – “Free and Freaky” could have been done up like a dirty psychedelic rush forty years ago, made by the MC5 or…ah…the Stooges. And “I’m thinking only baby about scoring your piece of ass” from “Greedy Awful People” doesn’t sound so sexy coming from a man nearly 60; if anything, it’d be either hilarious or horrifying were it directed evenly at a woman Iggy’s age. Never mind “my dick is a tree,” the already-infamous bit of “Trollin’” that’s perhaps become the most referenced line in criticism of The Weirdness.

But sound is so much more important than lyrical wit with the Stooges; here, Iggy sounds like himself as a Stooge, not himself as soloist Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop the soloist had a suave croon, like David Bowie’s delivery on “China Girl,” like aged Leonard Cohen meets Lux Interior. The title track here finds him singing like himself as soloist, more unfortunate bastard than sleazy, much like the voice he provided throughout The Idiot. But outside of this exception, he’s Iggy Stooge with a strain, attempting all the notes but lacking the necessary growl that Iggy Stooge sans strain had at 22. He’s raising his voice but incapable of getting in your face. All this topping off the Asheton guitar solos you’d anticipated but found lacking freedom and fluidity, instead choppy and restrained.

What works to the band’s advantage is their collaborative production with Steve Albini, who keeps filthy rock filthy. This isn’t the case of a raw punk band making its first big budget, clean and grand, chart-ready record; it’s a case of preserving the natural warmth that comes with a live performance, and this is what almost saves the record. At a live show, sound vibrates through speakers and creates an accidental (though often not-accidental) level of distortion that can’t be achieved through instruments alone. A record recorded in mono or on crappy equipment is special because it’s more natural sounding – closer to a live performance – than an album where sounds are tweaked here and there for perfect levels of clarity in stereo. And while the Stooges are better off than a small band with a minuscule budget or an old band forced to record in mono, The Weirdness does have that natural warmth that is expected to coat a Stooges record.

Ultimately, though, this record contains everything in the right place, no instrument dueling it out with another, Iggy unable to stretch his voice any further. Each band member carries his respective weight, but gets stingy when the option’s available to experiment outside of the basic chords/teenage lyrics formula that could work for a current band free of expectation. In one listen, The Weirdness is both an easy set to memorize and dull noise that quickly passes, and though entertaining to a degree, is only a worthy addition for its place in the Stooges’ history. Make friends with your local scalper and see the band live instead.

Give The Weirdness a go.

Or don't, and buy the double-disc edition of Fun House.


Travis said...

iggy freaks the shit out of me. how is he still alive?

China said...

His muscles freak the shit out of me!