[22 April 2010]
“Search and Destroy” is, of course, the all-time badass anthem. “I’m a street-walkin’ cheetah with a hide full of napalm / I’m the runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb” is as undiluted and perfect a distillation of fuck-you rock ‘n’ roll attitude as anything Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson ever came up with. The album it’s from is Raw Power, and the 38 minutes of feral mania that follow constitute one of the finest, bloodiest Dionysian works of art ever made. If it’s not the best, it’s only because the Stooges had already done it with Fun House. It’s not fair that anyone gets to be as awesome as Iggy Pop.
This new Cadillac reissue restores David Bowie’s original mix, which is apparently something of a big deal. Originally much-criticized for being too trebly and thin, it gained some credibility after Iggy’s remix for a 1997 CD reissue attracted its own flak for being too shiny and digital. The Bowie mix is better, as it happens, though it doesn’t necessarily seem like it should be. It pushes the vocals and guitar way out front, leaving the drums and bass just low enough to still be audible. It seems kind of tinny at first, but the real focus of the album lies in Iggy’s vocals and James Williamson’s stinging guitar leads. Stripping down the music around them is an excellent case of less being more. Iggy’s old mix, by comparison, sounds a little too conventional for music this ferocious.
So, there’s your 10 right there to begin with. There are two versions of this reissue coming out, though, with various configurations of additional material. Both the Legacy and Deluxe editions also feature Georgia Peaches, a live recording from Atlanta in 1973. Predictably, it’s pretty unhinged, and though the sound is bootleg-quality at best, it’s certainly not unlistenable. The addition of boogie-woogie piano to the band’s lineup highlights a connection with older forms of rock ‘n’ roll that otherwise wouldn’t be as immediately apparent, but the highlight is actually the stuff happening between songs, as the mics pick up comments from an audience clearly unprepared to receive Iggy’s message while Iggy baits them in turn. His speech following “Search and Destroy” is classic, starting with outright abuse and lascivious remarks before developing into a kind of free-association poem about Georgia peaches, then finally leading into “I Need Somebody”. Congratulations.
The third disc, featured on the Deluxe version, features studio outtakes from the Raw Power sessions. It’s less trying than the perversely comprehensive Fun House box set from a few years back, consisting of some alternate mixes of album tracks and some tracks that have trickled out on bootlegs and other releases of dubious legality. Most of the non-album songs are built around a repeated riff, over which Iggy rants and grunts. If this sounds similar to the album itself, don’t be fooled. While the impression given is mostly one of noise and aggression, songs like “Search and Destroy” display a high degree of songcraft and planning, which something like “I’m Hungry” does not. Granted, the riff is pretty cool, and as time goes on, Iggy’s extemporaneous food-themed lyrics (“How about some tomatoes? Or maybe some hollandaise?” “) become weirdly hilarious. Hardly essential, though.
The Deluxe Edition also features a half-hour documentary on the making of Raw Power, which I suppose is reasonably entertaining and informative. Its real appeal, though—the appeal of all the bonus material—lies in beholding the spectacle of Iggy Pop. Iggy is one of the most awesome figures in rock ‘n’ roll, both in the colloquial and majestic senses of the term. Raw Power is one of his definitive statements, and it is presented here in superb form. You owe it to yourself to get this.