Iggy & The Stooges - Ready To Die
Posted on Tuesday, 30 April 2013 | 1 Comment
Well, at least it's not The Weirdness.
The reunion tour has become one of the few sure-fire cash cows left for bands in the last decade, with the arteries of the gig circuit becoming clotted up and hardened with gang after gang of bald-headed men trying to squeeze into their old trousers and relive the glory days. But once the tour intinery's been ticked off the calendar and the jaded roadies are back to working the really-they're-still-going? beat with Scouting for Girls, what do you do then? Some just count up the proceeds and consider it a job done well enough: Pavement were fairly up-front about being in it for the money, and promptly went their seperate ways immediately. In the case of the Pixies, they've managed to keep touring on and off for longer than their original existence with but one new decent-ish cult curio along the way.
For many though, the lure of proving their worth and assembling new material is unavoidable. Be it unfinished business, new inspiration or just more dollar signs in the eyes, plenty of reunited acts are in it for the long haul these days. Sometimes it's glorious - Wire, Swans, My Bloody Valentine to name just three have all come back with superb work that more than holds its worth against the back catalogue (and as a side note, what is it about '80s alternative bands that somehow lets their reunion material more often than not be up to scratch?), and showcases artists and innovators who still have plenty to say. Some, however, aren't so glorious - the ongoing Smashing Pumpkings 're-union' of Billy Corgan guitar-wanking into his own mouth, the tragically tepid final Big Star record, and most infamously, the catastrophic shit-stain of The Weirdness, a record which took one of rock's great un-fuckable triptychs and emptied itself all over. Its status as an entirely unwanted footnote has left the album at best remembered as a punchline, and at worst forgotten entirely to preserve the sanctity of what The Stooges have come to mean in the proto-punk canon.
When Ron Asheton sadly passed away in 2009, you could have been forgiven for expecting that to be the end of the road on The Stooges reunion. At least they got a final blast of belated glory with some major gigs, a recognition of how vital they were. But in a move equal parts natural and cynical, the band instead turned to Raw Power guitarist James Williamson and reconfigured themselves as Iggy & the Stooges, and set about on a new tour that focused on this end of the band's work. And in fairness, having seen them in the flesh at a festival slot - the Iggy & the Stooges line-up was kicking out the jams. Williamson had regained his chops in formidable style, post-punk lifer Mike Watt had locked in fully with Scott Asheton to make a pounding rhythm section, and Iggy Pop...yeah, he did Iggy Pop just fine.
Only now they're back, with their new album Ready To Die. Now no corner of The Stooges/Iggy & The Stooges legacy is safe. But with a different line-up, further touring, and something to legitimately prove in the wake of the debacle of The Weirdness, could this be different? Nobody's expecting a bunch of largely retirement-age men to come up with another Fun House or Raw Power, but there could be something here, right?
Well, like I said above, at least it's not the previous effort. For starters, despite Iggy Pop's best efforts - yes, there is a song here called DD's as in the bra size, and it's every bit as Spinal Tap as you think it is - it doesn't sink to anywhere close to the level of determined stupidity of that last reunion effort. And while Ron Asheton might have been the more inventive, iconic guitarist (come on, the riff on I Wanna Be Your Dog is a lifetime pass if there ever was one), the slightly more complex and glam-infused style of James Williamson is certainly a more versatile sound, with more scope for re-invention than Asheton's determined chug.
Certainly, he's responsible for the more enjoyable aspects of Ready To Die. While somewhat over-cooked, there's a handful of great riffs here: the great sleazy lead of Burn that opens up the record with a nice punch, while Gun nods it head to the Spiders of Mars sound that David Bowie and his band cribbed from The Stooges in the first place. Even if he does come out with some total gibberish these days (as compared to the inspired gibberish of old), Iggy Pop's certainly putting himself out to sell this material - sneering and cocksure when needed, more restrained to befit his elder-statesman-of-punk status at time as well.
But the moments of dumb fun really aren't enough to sustain some very weak songwriting. Despite Williamson's best efforts, the big riffs just aren't frequent and powerful enough to paper over the frequent dips into tepid auto-drive that the record makes: the saxophone sleaze of Sex and Money aims for old-school sleaze, but the disinterested coos of the backing vocals and the static nature of the initially fun riff just leaves it sounding desperate, and there's just no saving bar band blues licks as cliched and boring as the ones that prop up on Dirty Deal. Given how Mike Watt continues to push himself and deliver the goods in exciting new projects like Il Sogno del Marinaio during Stooges down-time, why they can't let him take the wheel for a while remains baffling.
Surprisingly, it's when the albums slows down and turns unexpectedly reflective that it works best. Unfriendly World is a laid-back acoustic strummer in the Rolling Stones ballad mould that seems to have slipped through the cracks of Let It Bleed and ended up here by accident. While that comparison might be selling it a bit too hard, the charming slide guitar and Iggy's adoption of a baritone croon make for an unexpectedly appealing prospect. They try a similar trick on album closer The Departed, and damn it if they don't almost pull it off until the icky, tacky decision to start and end the track on an acoustic play on the I Wanna Be Your Dog - damn guys, even The Weirdness didn't remind us of the gaping disparity between then and now quite so wantonly and ineptly.
That the most enjoyable parts of a Stooges record are the parts that sound the least like a Stooges record sums up the situation. If Iggy Pop and his band want to make a nice old-guy blooze record, then fine - go ahead. But don't try and link it into the scorched earth legacy of the Stooges. And seriously, don't try and palm off weak, pointless efforts like Job and Beat That Guy as befitting of the Stooges name. A few moments of genuine enjoyment aside, this is a record almost as pointless, unwanted and entirely unneccesary as The Weirdness, saved from the same circle of Hell as that atrocity by sheer dint that now that the discography of The Stooges has already been tainted so, doing it a second time doesn't have quite the same impact. The cover suggested a try-hard attempt at reclaiming the shock value of their youth: after listening to Ready To Die, you wish they'd even been that ambitious.