[26 March 2007]
Until now, the Stooges’ place in rock ‘n’ roll history was an ephemeral A-bomb of bullish sludge. Between 1969 and 1973, the Ann Arbor, Michigan band released three punk rock-predicting official albums—The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power—before imploding, and its influence has been acknowledged only in retrospect. The Stooges made the kind of rock music that their name suggested: regressive and socially counterrevolutionary, blockheaded and abrasive, big and dumb. There was sincerity to their dumbness, however, a feeling that the sexually-charged indifference of “Loose” and naïve nihilism of “1969” were statements of no-bullshit truth. Equally sincere was the band’s remedial music ability; big block chords were struck sans finesse, the scream theatre of histrionic frontman Iggy Pop was a contemptuous dismissal of classicist singing, and actual songs were scarce (most of Fun House, for example, is more or less built around one simple guitar riff). The Stooges were a brief reminder of rock ‘n’ roll’s explosive genuineness and terminal simplicity—to exist for a longer period of time than they did would have negated the immediacy of their sound.
Now comes The Weirdness, the Stooges’ fourth official studio record and first since the band’s recent reunion some 30 years after its breakup. (Original band members Ron and Scott Asheton, who also appeared on Pop’s 2003 album Skull Ring, return on guitar and drums; Mike Watt, of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, replaces bassist Dave Alexander, who died of pneumonia in 1975; saxophonist Steve Mackay, who appeared abrasively on a handful of Fun House‘s tracks, drops in for a few songs.) The Weirdness complicates the Stooges’ once-tidy history just by existing, and yet it is a very poor record, which complicates things even further. Like every other inferior album by a defunct cult band that has unexpectedly reunited, it is a danger to the band’s legacy. Every assessment or endorsement of the Stooges must now be made with The Weirdness somewhere in the equation, and most fans will no doubt reference it with either apology or dismissal. Exactly why was this album made?
The Stooges are no longer the band they used to be, even if most of the original members are still in the picture. Their sincere dumbness has been replaced on The Weirdness with a prosaic, fat-bellied contentedness. That’s probably to be expected, admittedly, since Pop turns 60 years old this year and the band no longer ingests Herculean amounts of acid. The riffs sound like they’re trying to be more complicated than they actually are, resulting in the near-tone-deaf hooks of “Trollin’” and “My Idea of Fun”. While the band may have made its name on chaotically anonymous instrumentation, here it sounds downright unmemorable. Steve Albini’s unobtrusive “recording” hides nothing, exposing the band like unforgiving fluorescent lights above a vanity mirror.
Still, Pop may be his and the band’s worst enemy. His declarations of horniness (“My dick is growing into a tree”) are laughably juvenile and, in this post-Tenacious D age, reek of unintentional parody. Ditto on his political rants: “My Idea of Fun” finds Pop lamenting “Now is the season / For war with no reason”, a weak recap of the clenched-fist stance that “Search and Destroy” took in the ‘70s. Pop also makes numerous attempts at melody, in songs like “You Can’t Have Friends” and “The End of Christianity”. It’s a fruitless pursuit (surprise!), one that the band never embarked upon in the first place (remember, the “chorus” of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” involves one note stretched over seven repeated syllables). Pop isn’t drawing the line between his solo work and the Stooges on The Weirdness, instead substituting an excess of words for the wordless grunts, howls, and shrieks that used to define his band’s riotous sound.
This isn’t to say that an older, wiser version of the Stooges must sound like it once did. Instead, a less absurd expectation has not been met; the Stooges have failed to remain an exclusive phenomenon belonging to a very particular zeitgeist in rock ‘n’ roll culture. It’s human to want to tamper with something that’s in no need of tampering. We all have obsessive-compulsive urges, no matter how dormant, to edit a perfectly decent creation or reanimate a past glory. The Stooges are only human, after all, and we can’t fault them that. The Weirdness, on the other hand, will never be excused so kindly.