How much Iggy is too much? It's a question the ancients have pondered, made more complicated by this 4-disc set of live songs
How much Iggy is just enough? Or maybe the question should be, how much Iggy is too much? With literally hundreds of albums released over the years, including a spate of recent live recordings and reissues, there has been an abundance of Iggy Pop "discoveries" to satisfy even the most ardent fan. The sound quality of those releases, particularly the live gigs, varies from surprisingly good to all-but-unlistenable. But the question remains, is the world ready for four more hours of previously-unreleased Igginess?
The qualified answer is: why the hell not? Iggy rocked punk before punk existed, helped create the template for grunge before grunge existed, and has stayed resolutely true to his vision ever since the Stooges' first album melted speakers in 1969. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is my cell phone's ringtone, but never mind that. Iggy's contribution to the rock 'n' roll landscape was solid enough by punk's advent in 1977 that he would receive a lifetime pass even it his remarkable longevity hadn't led to another 30 years of (sometimes questionable) records.
Which brings us to Shout! Factory's latest offering. Roadkill Rising gathers live, unreleased tracks from the 1970s through the 2000s, culled from numerous gigs around the world. Typically three or four songs from each show are included, so there is no attempt to recreate a particular evening or performance. This leads to some abrupt shifts in sonic fidelity as, say, one treble-heavy session suddenly leads into another performance in which the bass is more prominent. For the most part, these moments pass quickly. The sound is generally okay-but-not-great, particularly on the first disc, which tends to the treble end of the spectrum. This will be familiar enough to Iggy fans (remember Raw Power?).
Sound aside, what about the performances? The energy remains consistently high -- raise your hand if you're shocked -- and Iggy sounds pretty much in tune and gets the words right. The flimsy booklet included with the set gives no details about performers, so you're on your own in trying to figure out who the guitarist is on any given track (James Williamson?) unless you can catch Iggy's breathless onstage introductions -- but let's face it, this is the Iggy show and always has been. One note: as a huge fan of the first three Stooges records (The Stooges, Fun House, Raw Power), it's a revelation to hear such classic tunes as "1969" and "Search and Destroy" played with significant keyboard contributions. I wouldn't have expected that to work. It does.
The 1970s disc leans heavily toward early Stooges tunes, along with some surprises like a ragged version of Them's "Gloria" (with lyrics changed) and the Kinks' "You Really Got Me", which is a song that sounds like Iggy wrote it. Another highlight of this first disc is the mournful "Turn Blue", from Lust For Life, a song in which Iggy's tortured vocals reveal that he isn't just a hell-raising bad boy, but a singer of rare emotional power as well.
Discs two and three mix in some of Iggy's almost-hits, like "Nightclubbing", "Real Wild Child" from Blah Blah Blah, and "China Girl", which David Bowie rode as a huge hit in the summer of 1983. Other surprises include the "Batman Theme" and a filthy version of "Louie Louie" that segues into "Hang on Sloopy", while older tunes like "Loose" and "TV Eye" are still in the setlist. A particularly delicious highlight is a ten-minute-plus version of the bluesy "One for My Baby" from the much-reviled Party album. It's unexpectedly hilarious to hear Iggy trying to quiet down the audience so he can hear himself sing; this version is so long because he keeps stopping to harangue the crowd. The sound on these discs is clearer than disc one, with heavier bass, although the buzz-saw guitars are still there and the crowd noise remains prominent throughout.
By the time you reach the fourth disc, your face might be starting to twitch and your ears, perhaps, are experiencing a continuous feedback loop, but stay strong. The nuggets -- it's hard to call them "hits", exactly -- keep coming. The original Stooges lineup reassembled for 2003's Skull Ring, which is represented here with a chugging rendition of the title track, along with exhumed tunes from the first records like "Dirt", "Down on the Street" and "Real Cool Time". Don't worry about this being a jukebox retrospective, though; newer songs like "Corruption" (from 1999's Avenue B) stand alongside a quartet from from 2001's Beat 'Em Up: "Howl", "The Jerk", "Lost" and "Drink New Blood". Iggy's latest album does not go unrepresented either, with three tracks from his recent "WTF?" project, the jazzy and occasionally French Preliminaires.
The set closes with a pair of songs apparently unavailable on any other Iggy release, which is saying something. "Willow Weep for Me" sounds like an outtake from Preliminaires, while "Shotgun" is a funky, high-energy sax-powered tune that wouldn't sound out of place in a James Brown set. In all, the set's 66 songs touch on just about every studio album Iggy ever released, even if only for a single tune. I would have liked to hear a few more songs from the excellent 1988 release Instinct, but alas that is represented only by "High on You", a good but not great song.
Given the sometimes-dodgy, bootleg-quality sound, this set is probably not for the casual Iggy fan, but for anyone who has the albums and wants to recreate the falling-off-the-edge experience of a live concert, Roadkill Rising is a consistently strong set of performances in one handy package. Great cover, too.
Oh, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog"? It just might be the best. Song. Ever.