THREE STOOGES ARE BETTER THAN NONE!
By Madeline Bocaro
The Weirdness is certainly not normal. If it’s the worst Stooges album as many are saying, then maybe it’s the best Iggy Pop album (besides The Idiot or Lust For Life). We’ve already read many harsh reviews, and a few politely praising their first album in 34 years. Old timers are complaining, newcomers act as if they know what’s missing (drugs obviously), but nobody’s really appreciating the fact that we have three living Stooges recording together again in our lifetime! This alone is a miracle! And their sax player has also survived the fun house! This time around however, true to form, they have NOT pleased the masses!
Ever since the early 70’s, Iggy & The Stooges fathered every despicable new form of rock music to crawl up from the street, and onto the radio. In their day, they were pariahs – highly unmarketable, unfashionable and outcast by the mainstream, yet adored by a cult of rock purists. Music history would have been radically different without the steadfast foundation the Stooges built with blood and guts. There was no calculation in the band’s formation. It just happened – a primal force of nature. The Stooges erupted in a loud burst, similar to the big bang that created planet earth. You might call it a natural disaster! They took the pop out of pop, wiped out the sixties, inspired heavy metal and revered soul, rhythm and blues.
Fast forward to spring, 2007. While taking a neighborhood walk, listening to the new Stooges offering in my iPod expecting the worst, the first song began. I was immediately transformed back into the teenage delinquent outcast I had been almost forty years ago (while enjoying Fun House on my 8-track)! I now felt a mischievous smirk emerging on my face and my head began bobbing. I reveled in the fact that I’m currently unemployed, and my stride hit a major groove – the Stooges are back! As folks jogged by, I knew for sure that whatever shlock they were listening to was not nearly as fucked up as “Trollin'”! I wish my parents were still alive – not so much because I miss them, but just so I could see their faces grimace when hearing this all too familiar glorious noise once again! That was half the fun, wasn’t it?
Track one is encouraging. It gives hope that the rest of this damned album will be a masterpiece. However, we hear very few glimmers of greatness until the final song, “I’m Fried’ when Steve Mackay’s sax impressively replicates a stampede of irate elephants, hyenas and cows during an air raid, in unison with some sublime Asheton guitar wailing. Somewhere in between the first and last tracks are a few laughs, some kick-ass riffs, classic wah-wahs, and whiny vocal over-indulgence by Iggy. If there is anyone to blame for the flaws on this album, it’s the grumpy old front man!
The Weirdness is just as lyrically juvenile (if not more so) than the gems these guys produced in their day, but unfortunately not as pure, exciting and minimal. While yelps, growls or two-word repetitive mantras used to be quite effective, the wordiness here is too much information! They should have stuck to this brilliant method, recently described by Iggy to David Fricke at SXSW; “When Ron started jamming the chords in ‘No Fun,’ I knew instantly that we would be in the book…As for the lyrics of that track, I always thought that ‘no’ is a great word. One of my favorite parts of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction is when Mick goes “No no no.” And then, on the other hand, you had the Beach Boys, another great band, who had this song where they kept repeating “Fun, fun, fun”, so I thought to myself, “Well, there you go.””
The Asheton brothers (Ron and Scott – guitar and drums) rock out like no one else – no question. Bassist (ex- Minuteman) Mike Watt blends in well. No amount of inane or excessive lyrics can deny the power of the band, but something is definitely lacking…perhaps more cowbell? After all, they used sleigh bells on “I Wanna Be Your Dog”!
Living up to their own incomparable legacy would be impossible, yet considering that The Stooges have actually gone overboard and did too much thinking, it’s all pretty ironic. They’ve become more savant than idiot! That they’ve learned to play their instruments better doesn’t help the situation. The dum dum boys should have gone dummer!! Fortunately, no track is too long that it becomes uninteresting. Unfortunately, no track is long enough to evolve into a free-form primal beast, encompassing blues/jazz and hysteria that was the Stooges’ trademark. Anyway, if you really wanna dig this album, you’ve gotta play it LOUD!
Producer Steve Albini wasn’t to heavy handed on the mix, so he is probably not to blame. Yet, we must consider who produced the other three Stooges albums and successfully conjured up their magic; Iggy himself with Jac Holzman (who re-mixed John Cale’s first shot at The Stooges’ debut album), the Kingsmen’s Don Gallucci – who played the timeless keyboard riff on the 1963 hit ‘Louie Louie’ at age 15 – (Fun House) and David Bowie (Raw Power).
I’m torn. It’s enjoyable. It’s fun. It’s actually growing on me. But the Stooges’ allure was that they were sick, crazed, dangerous, unpredictable and SERIOUS! Nowadays, everything around us is sick and dangerous (including Britney Spears who has apparently cracked up) so the Stooges now sound somewhat safe. However, seeing them live next week should be fun. They are still the greatest live band around! Three Stooges are better than none!
(There are four extra tracks on the vinyl version of The Weirdness; “O Solo Mio”, “Claustrophobia”, “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Sounds Of Leather”).
3 thoughts on “The Stooges – The Weirdness”
The best writing I have read about ‘The Weirdness’, hands down. Too late now but I do agree with your prescription regards Super-dum approach. Ig himself quotes Keith’s adage about lyricists trying to put an elephant in a deck chair (i.e. too verbose). The Asheton’s might’ve wanted the world to know they were skilled musicians, they could’ve played within their abilities and let little flourishes demonstrate this. It takes sterling musicianship to play minimal riffs in as rock solid a groove as the Stooges wielded. They should’ve done an ultra-reduced Stooges, with even fewer words and notes and pushed the minimal envelope (Yoko gave us a masterpiece consisting of only the word ‘Why?’ I need not remind you!). Far be it from me to try to preach tpo The Stooges. I bend the knee to them, I even applaud the barrelhouse peeyanner days with Scott Thurston that rankle some. These guys are the Artistes, regardless of what the glare of harsh reality does after we leave the cozy fantasyworld of our youth (thinking seriously about careers, social repute and whatnot). I thought their cover of You Better Run (slow version) was excellent, and the song Skull Ring was agreeable on Ig’s record, but grew in stature from being played live with the welcome addition of Steve McKay on sax. This made me think that the Skull Ring tracks and the Weirdness LP were really just demos, and given a schedule of regularly playing together, the band whipped songs into shape. They really should’ve located a new Funhouse, and moved in together (!). I still fantasise about more Stooge music. I’d love to have heard them do something like Neil Young’s ‘Like An Inca’. The Damned’s ‘You Know’ comes close.
Thanks Bill! I totally agree with your points!
“You know” came to my mind too … In my opinion it was unlikely to ever work ( the weirdness).. i love hearing Ron & Scott s playing maybe if an instrumental version of the album came out id love it a bit more ..