Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Stooges' Fun House: Iggy Pop Culture Petri Dish

Rock and roll always wore danger on its sleeve, but punk godfather Iggy Pop just snarled, tore the shirt off, and carved the danger all over the exposed skin with a broken liquor bottle.

Rock heroes in the late sixties usually tempered the sex and violence built into their music with mysticism (The Doors), technical chops (Hendrix), political righteousness (The MC5) or a knowing Bacchanalian twinkle (sixties-vintage Stones). But Iggy--and his never-to-be-rivalled cronies, The Stooges--came crawling out of the grime of industrial Michigan with no such agenda.

The Stooges' primal, aggressive, sexual throb hurled the Rolling Stones' white-boy blues, the Doors' throaty psychedelia, and the blue-collar scrape of US garage rock into a pressure-cooker cranked to maximum. It was a direct livewire between Iggy's Dionysian id and the listener's ear, and it changed the world.

That change was a gradual one. The first two Stooges albums, 1969's The Stooges and 1970's Fun House, saw almost instant obscurity upon their initial releases, and the band sputtered to a halt a few years later. Iggy Pop himself then pursued a solo career for the next two decades. But as the old cliche goes, almost every misfit, malcontent, and frustrated kid who scored a copy of either of those first two LP's started a band themselves.

Rhino Records, one of the finest reissue labels in the universe, has performed yet another invaluable service by recently unleashing deluxe two-disc editions of the first two Stooges LP's upon the masses. Both are essential, but Fun House is, simply put, one of the most pulverizing bursts of rock and roll ever, all the more so in newly remastered form.

The Stooges originally hit stores in 1969, and includes some truly classic songs--"No Fun" was covered by the Sex Pistols, and the sub-Jagger sneer of "1969" received the same homage from several outfits, including Seattle's grunge pioneers Mudhoney and goth-rockers the Sisters of Mercy--but John Cale's production feels muted and tentative, even on the remastered version. Cale, a founding member of rock subversives the Velvet Underground, may have been something of a kindred spirit to the Stooges, but he was also a classically-trained musician and composer, and his boardwork blunts the impact of a band that had no use for refinement in any form.

1970's Fun House, on the other hand, ripped things wide open with a gut-punching and immediate sound courtesy of producer Don Gallucci. As a member of the Kingsmen, Gallucci played keyboards on the definitive recording of that Rosetta Stone of rock songs, "Louie Louie"; he knew the value of chucking polish in favor of power. The resulting production marked the first time that someone effectively condensed the Stooges' mythic live sound onto vinyl.

The band rose to the occasion with a handful of their most muscular and menacing songs yet. From the Jagger-gone-NC-17 strut of the opener, "Down in the Street" to the gloriously decadent "Loose" to the utter cacophony of "L. A. Blues", Fun House's songs maintained a merciless level of intensity. Even when the pace slowed and the drums stopped pile-driving (as on the eerie goth blues of "Dirt") Iggy still peppered his most languid crooning with spontaneous screams, whoops, and outbursts, like a prizefighter breaking the stillness with unexpected blows.

Fun House still pummels, even today. In their clarion remastered incarnation, Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander pound out the rhythms like two pissed-off cavemen on drums and bass respectively, and Ron Asheton's guitar chords fire off with the visceral scattershot energy of a sawed-off shotgun. Together this ensemble careens forward with the destructive inevitability of a rickety turbo-charged diesel truck barrelling down an iced road. And square in the driver's seat of that barely-holding-together, roaring, grinding vehicle is Iggy Pop.

You can hear all that is loud, frightening, reckless, and exhilarating about rock and roll in the first eight seconds of track 3, the relentless "TV Eye," and it's due to the force of nature that is Ig's voice. He opens the song with a howl so utterly primal, so completely uncalculated, so sustained, and so flippin' scary that it'd raise the dead (the resulting ululations manage to match Ron Asheton's snarling machine-gun riffs, slug for slug). It's the sound of a completely unhinged, rabid, and insanely horny animal giving violent and painful birth to twins: Punk Rock and Grunge.

Absolute must listening...If you think you've got the guts.

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