BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Iggy & the Stooges take a big chance by releasing new music. After all, anything written and recorded now is essentially the follow-up to the peerless Raw Power, one of the most influential and – forty years on – still potent rock & roll records ever made. That’s pressure no artist needs. It doesn’t help that the last time the Stooges tried to add to their legacy, the result was The Weirdness, which should be on the shortlist for top 10 most underwhelming comeback albums. None of that bodes well for any further attempts.
But a lot has happened since The Weirdness, most significantly the sudden and tragic passing of guitarist Ron Asheton and the re-recruitment of successor – and Raw Power co-architect – James Williamson, who hadn’t played guitar in nearly 30 years before re-upping membership. A series of well-received shows and tours made a new record inevitable.
Fortunately, Ready to Die lives up to the promise and succeeds where The Weirdness failed. Iggy, Williamson, drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Mike Watt (still the new kid even though he’s been a Stooge for a decade), along with adjunct sax fiend Steve MacKay, reignite the fire that barely smoldered on the previous platter by combining strong songwriting with spit-and-slash attitude for a combination that’s damn near lethal.
The LP kicks off, appropriately enough, with “Burn,” a snarling smash-and-grab that has your ears in its greasy grip with the first riff – the words “instant classic” get overused and abused but are completely apt in this case. Having proven that the band can still vigorously put the boot to the nearest tuchis, Iggy keeps the adrenaline pumping and the bad attitude flowing. “I’m just a guy with a rockstar attitude,” he brays in the no-hope-‘til-payday anthem “Job,” “I got no belief and I got no gratitude” – and Williamson’s raging riff backs him up. “Gun” puts sneering sarcasm – “If I had a fucking gun I could shoot at anyone” – in service of both irony and one of Williamson’s patented hard rock/punk crossroads licks. The same attitude shows up again in “Dirty Deal,” as Iggy declares “Simple people praise the Lord/Smarter people steal and horde” over blazing punk & roll.
One might get the impression from the libretto that the Ig looks upon the modern world and despairs. Funny thing, though – no matter how dark the lyrics get, the music belies any defeatism with devil-may-care spirt and balls of titanium. “Even love goes for the dough,” Iggy sneers in “Sex and Money,” but the roiling rock behind him smashes his cynicism. Williamson’s six-string fire and Asheton’s strong-arm pummeling kick a hole in any perceived apathy in the title track – “I’m shooting for the sky because I’m ready to die” becomes a war cry instead of a suicide note. This, my friends, is what it means to rage against the dying of the light. Besides, if the power chords don’t do it, there’s always sex, as the in-praise-of-chesticles anthem “DD” (“I’m on my knees for those double D’s/Why tell a lie I am mystified”) makes plain.
Ready to Die doesn’t just slash and burn for thirty minutes. “Unfriendly World” couches its lament at the state of reality – “Hang on to your girl, ‘cuz this is an unfriendly world” – in slide-driven acoustic guitars and one of Iggy’s lowest-key vocal performances. “Beat That Guy” also revels in non-amplified textures, at least until the Les Paul kicks in. But the best meditative moments come from “The Departed,” the Stooges’ tribute to Ron Asheton, “Yesterday’s a door that’s opening for the departed,” Iggy croons softly, letting his affection for his fallen comrade carry the song’s power, rather than cranked amps. Williamson follows suit by opening and closing the tune with the signature riff from “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
It’s possible that anyone expecting a record as innovative as Raw Power may be disappointed – after all, there aren’t any sounds here that could be called new. But the Stooges have no need to break any new ground – the band practically invented a style that few can replicate with the same fire and spit as the originals. The only thing the Stooges needed to do here was reclaim their mojo, get back in the spirit that seemed to have lain dormant in their last studio outing. And so they have – on Ready to Die, Iggy & the Stooges sound hungry, ready not to expire but to prove something: that rock & roll is not dead and no one does it better.
DOWNLOAD: “Burn,” “Ready to Die,” “The Departed”