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Sunday, April 18, 2010

CD Review: Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power Legacy Edition

Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power Legacy Edition
2010 Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In honor of Record Store Day weekend, a little indie shop story. Fitting it would be centered around Iggy and the Stooges, whose seminal album Raw Power is re-emerging on the market in a slamdango Legacy Edition.

I have two modes of conduct in a music store: talkative engager of album literati and silent stalker in search of that next great vibe I'm missing out on (or previously missed). Either fashion is suitable to me on a personal level because music consumption is both private and subjective. Open to discussion and held close to heart in the same breath.

One afternoon I was sampling a stack of indie rock albums which seldom come my way in the promo mailings and out of the entire hoarde Bat For Lashes made it to the register with me along with a used copy of Yes' Relayer and Thrice singer Dustin Kensrhue's debut solo album, Please Come Home. Don't ask how I remember my purchase selections on one random visit to the record store; gift of osmosis from the music gods, perhaps.

By the time I'd hung up the listening earphones in my sequestered sanctum of the record store, my ears were raked by The Stooges' "Search and Destroy." It made me smile as if Iggy Pop, James Williamson and the Asheton brothers had wandered into a chance independent store and set up shop to whip out an impromptu anywhereman gig. That's how loud the store was and how stunned I was people continued to float about in a zombie shuffle as if a bloody nocturne was playing instead of Iggy and the Stooges.

This somnambulist play in the store offended me as a rocker. Worse was a conversation at the register after the store clerk turned the volume down on "Gimme Danger," thus robbing the air of its electric urgency. A younger guy wearing a HIM t-shirt was engaging the store clerk (who looked maybe one generation shy of mine, thus we usually got on well between patron and employee) and asking why Raw Power was considered a cornerstone of punk. "I don't hear it, man," HIM-Boy said. "That's just noise, not punk." A High Fidelity moment if there ever was one.

I could end this writing right there on that point, slap down a 4.5 star rating to Raw Power and have no reason to talk further. An album which helped define punk rock ahead of Never Mind the Bollocks and Rocket to Russia which needed justification? Well, goddamn, that's dandy, isn't it? Wouldn't Iggy and his glam drapes find joy in this?

The fact "punk" was only a derogatory term used to throw down between greasers and socs in the fifties and later on, from parents scared out of their minds the youth brigade in leathers and chains were gaining stable footing in the gutters tells you why Raw Power is revered as much as it is.

Sure, the self-titled Stooges album and Fun House surpass Raw Power on the level of execution--particularly since the late Ron Asheton is the guitarist of The Stooges despite being relegated to bass to make room for James Williamson--yet the primal snarl of the latter album is the reason it's a true punk album. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" may be one of The Stooges' crowning achievements of slop art, yet Raw Power as an entire body of work is a stocks and bombs affair which both separates and unifies The Stooges to The Velvet Underground as one of the most important counterculture groups bred in America.

Keeping in mind "punk rock" was still a term yet to be coined amongst the music underground, Raw Power was a spine-raking wakeup call filled with glitter trash poetry and a call to arms directed at every single listener. Iggy Pop balking into his mike at people telling him what to do was seldom achieved in 1973, despite the anti-draft rock turbulence preceding it in the late sixties.

Raw Power is a post-Vietnam aftershock felt on the first grab with "Search and Destroy" and sustained by the quaky "Gimme Danger," "Penetration" and of course the nervy title track. Raw Power declares a farewell to the Fabulous Fifties which intially sparked this band on the jivy Little Richard and Larry Williams-flavored clap-along "Shake Appeal." "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" might be the most unnerving title The Stooges ushered (considering it was originally called "Hard to Beat") and every distorted riff and twang instigates claustrophobia.

Sure, Raw Power bears on its rolled-out shoulders the weight of yielding the most ham-fisted sound of their four albums, partially because of the lineup shift putting its star guitarist into the bass man position (following the death of original Stooges bassist Dave Alexander) and partially because Ziggy Stardust himself David Bowie championed The Stooges into a spiffy recording contract with Columbia Records. Bowie assumes an unfair shake of blame for the grimier tone of Raw Power, (and this special edition features his original cut of the album) but do consider the title of the album: Raw Power. We're talking raw, not fully-cooked. On this, the album is a tremendous success and it's taken this generation of underground metalheads and punkers to acknowledge both the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges as forefathers of multiple genres: punk, garage rock and glam. All raw, all off-the-cuff, all gloriously catastrophic.

We need not flog Raw Power's amplified dick any further because it is what it is. Iggy and the Stooges never recovered from their own quake following Raw Power and it wasn't until 2007 when we saw an official Stooges release, The Weirdness. Of course, that album is a gleeful nostalgia ride instead of flat-out weird like one of the bonus songs presented on this Raw Power Legacy Edition: "Doojiman."

"Doojiman" defies description with its voodoo chile scatter tempo and toked-up guitar jam backing up Iggy, who gives new meaning to the phrase "mumbo jumbo." He scats, shrieks and twists his tongue into perverse lunacy. A perfect addition to an already jacked-up album.

The Raw Power Legacy Edition also throws in a rehearsal performance of another previously unreleased song "Head On," a tune which rides on the primary bossanova riff in the breakdown of The Doors' "L.A. Woman." "Head On" also appears in a raucous live section on the second disc of the Raw Power Legacy Edition. The concert presented here, titled "Georgia Peaches" is a superior live documentation of The Stooges prior to their melting point. Everything's clicking in this performance to the point Iggy's taunting his audience to eat his ass. At one point, he stops the action and goads someone in the crowd into a fistfight. Reckless, confrontational and flamboyant. In other words, pure Iggy Pop.

Iggy writes a gorgeous ode to Raw Power and The Stooges in the new liner notes of this double album, comparing it to a barn dance of old and his writing is off-the-chart. Also featuring anecdotes from Scott Asheton and James Williamson, all of it is a fitting tribute to their fallen comrade Ron Asheton, who passed away last year. Journalists Brian J. Bowe and Kris Needs paint the story of Raw Power and why it is held on the same mantle as the MC5's Kick Out the Jams.

It's ironic both MC5 and The Stooges are best-known for their messiest output, even if Kick Out the Jams to this day bears the single-greatest moxy for a rock band by releasing their debut slab as a live album. Back in the USA is the MC5's gold nugget and depending on who you ask, Fun House is the same for The Stooges.

It's the bare-bones knuckle drags of Kick Out the Jams and Raw Power which audiences and critics relate to. Both are the ultimate statements of "fuck you" and if that isn't punk, then wander cluelessly in a HIM shirt all you like and wait for enlightenment.

Rating: ****1/2


Michael Davis said...

Right on Ray

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thank you, my friend! This album never fails to energize me.

Ezra said...

I for one am glad to see Bowie's original mix back. I bought the Iggy remixed version a few years ago and promptly returned it.
There actually is such a thing as "Too much in the red", who knew! I've built most of my collection around "Challenging listens" but that was too much. Much like Jay Reatard's "Blood Visions".
Glad to see the original back, no matter how flawed. That's what makes it a CLASSIC!

Rob J said...

I brought "Raw Power" in December
1975, and it changed my life. By then The Stooges had broken up and Iggy was reduced to being a homeless junkie.
Nevertheless to me,this was the sound of greatness. Regrettably this viewpoint was not shared by my colleagues. I took the album to college the following month to play it to other students in the common room. This was at the time of Prog Rock such as Yes,Rush, ELP Genesis,Greenslade with ornate sleeves designed by Roger Dean.

There was already heads being shaken when they saw the cover of the album. I played the first tracks to utter silence.

One wag took my album off the turntable, and said "Let's hear some REAL music... "

Queen's pompous "Bohemian Rhapsody" was played to loud cheers. If I wanted to hear Cole Porter, I would have asked for classic Sinatra or Ella.
At the same time, a little known band called The Sex Pistols were causing a stir with their confrontational stance and songs.
They were also the first band to cover The Stooges' "No Fun"....

The rest is history.

"Raw Power" whether it is the Bowie or Iggy mix is a GREAT record, and history has finally vindicated its' unique status with the Legacy edition. Where are ELP and Greenslade now ?

To quote Ig :- "It can't be beat..."

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