As everyone and their grandmother have heard by now, The Stooges, have had a fairly recent reunion and, in their current incarnation, they have just released their first studio album in thirty-seven years this past month. Technically, they have already recorded together as they perform three songs on Iggy Pop’s last solo record entitled Skull Ring. Since then, Mr. Pop, Ron Ashton, Scott Ashton and bassist Mike Watt (filling in for the late Dave Alexander) have been touring together over the past few years. Admittedly, I was skeptical before I saw them live in 2004, but their energetic performance was rather shockingly terrific. The Weirdness is the title of this somewhat unexpected new album and it has been highly anticipated since their recording plans with producer Steve Albini were announced last year. So far, this record has been thoroughly panned by critics across the globe, but considering the ages of the band members, and more importantly, if one remembers that Funhouse was released almost four decades ago, I would have to say that this new recording, although it has it’s faults, is not a bad one.
“Trollin” is the title of the lead track and it is precisely what I expected from the reformed pack of misfits. It is a loud rock song, which features Iggy in his usual irreverence singing such romantic lines as, “My dick is turning into a tree.” As usual, some of the lyrics are humorous and most of them are silly, but it is what we have come to expect from him. The second track, “You Can’t Have Friends” features some classic Stooges wah guitar, but is another hard rock throwback in that it doesn’t do anything interesting or go anywhere especially after a few listens. Next, we get more of the same from “ATM,” where Iggy makes a few public service announcements. The first one is “The leaders of rock don’t rock.” Well, most of us can agree on this much. Oddly, the second statement is rather different from anything else that we’ve heard where he declares that “The Stooges fight poverty in secret.” Great. Of course, all of this is centered around the theme of hanging out near an ATM. I suppose that Iggy and his mates always were rock’s Jay and Silent Bob. Maybe pulling money out of the bank is the new punk rock?
The song, “My Idea of Fun,” which was played live long before the album came out and has been the single in an itunes/internet song clip sort of way, has some raw guitar parts that are definitely reminiscent of classic Stooges. However, Iggy’s voice sounds strained here as it does in many of the more rocking songs. Still, you can’t expect his voice to sound like it did in the early seventies. Elsewhere, the song “The Weirdness” is finally the first song on the album that is a little bit slower and melodic. It even features original Stooges saxophone player circa Funhouse, Steve Mackay. It is a pretty good song in comparison with the others, even though it is followed by the absolutely horrendous “Free and Freaky” where Pop says, “England and France/These cultures are old/Their cheese is stinky and their beer ain’t cold.” This is high school humor and the song sounds like it would only appeal to that demographic. It is barely interesting even the first time that you hear it.
“Greedy Awful People,” has yet another awful title and the music is more of the same overcompensating hard rock, but the lyrics are more intriguing (as far as Pop’s lyrics can be) this time as he reflects on feeling out of synch with the people around him. “I used to like my neighborhood/It really made me feel good/Until they brought in church and steeple/Greedy awful people/They drive those fucking awful cars/And go to ritzy titty bars…/They buy pajamas on TV/And visit every place they see/And ruin it instantly/Greedy awful people.” Elsewhere there is a song called, “The End of Christianity,” and although it doesn’t relay any kind of convincing or coherent message, Iggy is still trying to be the provocateur that he has always been.
At song number eleven, there is finally a composition that assists the album that is otherwise defined by hit and miss songs, titles and lyrics. The track, “Passing Cloud,” is the first and only song on the record that carries no contrivances with it. This is the one track that sounds honest and actually remains memorable from listen to listen. It is a slower, contemplative song that holds more melody than the combined rest of the record. Once again, Steve Mackay plays saxophone, and the signature Ron Ashton lead guitar adds a touch of dissonance to the track. The song isn’t an incredible piece of music, but it does reveal that the Stooges are capable of making music that doesn’t rely on toilet humor.
Ultimately, The Weirdness does have two big problems. First and foremost, there is ostensibly no bass guitar on this record. Semi-veteran Mike Watt is supposedly playing on the record, but I honestly can’t hear him on any of the songs. Dave Alexander died sometime in the nineteen seventies and because of this unfortunate fact, the record lacks the classic rhythmic groove that was so unique in the Stooges’ first two albums. In the past, where there were songs like “Little Doll” and “Dirt,” now not only is there a severe lack in rhythm, but the bass is so low in the mix that it makes me wonder why they even bothered wasting Mike Watt’s time. The second problem with this record is somewhat related to the first, but is ultimately a longevity issue in that there is not enough variation in the songs, which makes the album too monochromatic. Sure, I was expecting a lackluster hard rock album when I received it in the mail, but with the lack of bass guitar in the record there is also a troubling lack of heart or guts at the core of The Weirdness. This time the Stooges depend far too much on one style and sound that get a bit tiresome after a while. The album is predictable as well despite their encouraging live performance. It is no surprise to anyone that this record will never hold a candle to the classic Stooges records that were released before most of us were born, still I would much rather listen to this album than most of the garbage that comes out on Saddle Creek and Barsuk Records. Maybe the Stooges will take their next record a little more seriously if they get around to recording another one.