In 1973, Iggy And The Stooges released their one and only studio LP, Raw Power. Consisting of only eight songs, it is quite possibly the greatest recording in all of Western Civilization. I speaketh not with hyperbole nor forked tongue. Raw Power is the most beautifully deranged and demented album ever unleashed upon this vale of tears. Both a mirror and a harbinger of things to come, it’s immersed in violence, drugs, alienation, war, and nihilism. And if you’ll notice, none of those things appear to have gotten any better. Raw Power remains relevant for precisely that reason. It actually says something worth saying.
“Iggy And The Stooges—in their mid-20s, mind you— caught the elusive zeitgeist and nailed it to the killing floor.” . They sound like five pit bulls at the end of a metal chain, the aural equivalent of nunchucks. They sound like an aneurysm. Every note of Raw Power will make your sound system rend itself in agony and ecstasy. It’s confrontational, serpentine, and silvery. It’s insidious.
So how do you follow up such a metallic Tasmanian Devil vortex of beauty? Between 1973 and 2013 lies forty years of death, destruction, dismemberment, Mariah Carey, Big Gulps, and gonzo porn. The same old shit amped up to 11 and multiplied by infinity. Are Iggy And The Stooges—now in their 60s—up to the zeitgeist challenge?
Are you kidding? Did the sun come up this morning? Ready To Die gushes with the spirit of the age. It explodes all over everything, a munitions factory of riches. It gives Iggy Pop, one of music’s great lyricists, the opportunity to say things like this:
Businessmen with nasty tricks
Followers of 666
Fame and fortune make me sick
And I can’t get out
The system’s rigged to favor crooks
You won’t find that in civic books
It’s not cool to ask a man to sign what he don’t understand
Guys smarter than God will write
Contracts darker than the night
And when truth becomes violent
They’ll hang you on a chain link fence
And my personal favorite:
You lay down the law or lay down to die
Now, do those words sound like a man going gently into that good night? I think not. It sounds like your own decapitated head and pulsating heart served raw with a knife and fork. Eat ‘em up yum, America.
On Ready To Die, The Stooges open up and bleed. They cut through all the bullshit with complete disregard for the niceties. They ain’t got time to make no apologies. Still a cross between a buzz saw and a train wreck, their primal stomp remains firmly intact. James Williamson still plays like a genius savant who just discovered the guitar and Iggy Pop…well, he’s Iggy Pop. He still has an uncanny knack for tearing it down to the bare essentials. All meat, no fat. He picks his teeth with the bones of the pretentious. Iggy pontificates on sex, death, violence, gun control, immigration, the economy, and dirty deals. It’s like he’s been reading America’s mail. He strips the emperor naked. He even appears on the cover with ten sticks of dynamite strapped to his body. Ready To Die is practically the nightly news.
The festivities begin with “Burn”, the runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb. The warning shot is a single snare drum and then it goes off like 1945. Ladies and gentlemen, we are cooking with grease.
“Job” is a 21st century anthem for the working stiff: “I got a job and it don’t pay shit…I got a job and I’m sick of it.” Preach that gospel, Brother Ig. I am the 99%.
Gun’ is a guided cruise missile, Iggy holding forth on America’s love affair with weapons and confrontation. Folks, he’s got our number.
The title track is an instant air guitar classic and—dare I say it—a potential radio hit. I pressed repeat like a pyro detonator and sang into my hairbrush at the top of my lungs. This track alone makes Ready To Die worth the price of admission.
“DDs” is a tribute to…well, it’s a…um, a rousing number about…ah, screw it, it’s about boobs. *shrug* Men. What are you gonna do?
“Dying Breed” (on the import and iTunes versions only) is a Stonesy rocker that forces you to rethink who deserves the ‘World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band’ moniker. Hint: they ain’t from England.
Amid this primordial soup, there are violins, strumming guitars, saxophone skronks, handclaps, female backing vocals, lap steel, and even a pump organ. There are also three atypical ballads: “Unfriendly World”, “Beat That Guy”, and “The Departed”, the latter a heartfelt tribute to original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton (who died in 2009). Bookended by melodic quotes from Asheton’s famous “I Wanna Be Your Dog” riff, there’s even an element of weariness:
You’ll feel like you wanna run
‘Cause there’s no one here but us
And by the end of the game
We all get thrown under the bus
To their credit, The Stooges don’t tarry and linger. They say their peace/piece and get out. They hit it and split. Ready To Die is only 34 minutes long. Interestingly enough, so is Raw Power. Coincidence or by design? Doesn’t really matter. 34 minutes is all it took for Raw Power to change music. With Ready To Die, lightning strikes twice.
Iggy And The Stooges slash and burn like streetwalking cheetahs, hearts full of napalm. Highly recommended.
Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.
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