The Weirdness by the Stooges
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Stooges Iggy Pop, Ron and Scott Asheton, all grew up working-class stiffs, their aesthetic shaped in Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in the tension between them and the faculty brats they encountered; Iggy grew up in a trailer park equidistant between University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. Their school's near-contemporary, Bob Seger, expressed the contradictions felt by their blue-collar demographic about the Vietnam War: his songwriting shuttled between the war-questioning "2 + 2 (is On My Mind)" and a limp, parodic "protest against protesters" called "The Ballad of the Yellow Beret". On the Stooges' previous studio album—a mere 35 years ago—Iggy sang of the effects of the Vietnam war in "Search and Destroy", named for the war's characteristic infantry mission. Following in the jungle footsteps of the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul", he articulated a streetwalking cheetah who brought back stateside "a heart full of napalm/the runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb".
As a solo performer, Iggy adopted mainstream America's smug voice in his first Gulf War song, crowing "We're the undefeated" on his 1990 solo album Brick by Brick. He can easily voice the know-nothing assuredness of the jocks he knew and loathed in high school. A sneering 1979 song "I'm a Conservative" echoed political drumbeats that resulted in Ronald Reagan's presidency. The Gulf War probably inspired Iggy's 1994 "American Caesar", as did the autodidact's reading of ancient history that fueled his improvisational sermon on tortures of the Philistines, when he played a dress-wearing backwoodsman (who menaced Johnny Depp) in Jim Jarmusch's movie "Dead Man".
A heavily-promoted song from The Weirdness, "My Idea of Fun" is as bitter as a song appearing on the fourth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq should be. To this listener, it's sung in the character of George Bush, as the jester Iggy speaks in the voice of the ruler, to lampoon him and show how absurd he appears. The repeated refrain says "My idea of fun/is killing everyone", as good an explanation for the war's strategy as any (that doesn't mention oil). Like Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Iggy rails at the culture of obedience around us. Yet unlike Anderson, he cites it as why he hates mankind. Iggy's persona may be as cocked and explosive as the long-coated killers of Columbine High, but he usually spins it out frenetically on stage, airing his vehemence in catharsis. And wouldn't it have been delicious if the Stooges had fronted a choir of children singing the song's bridge "Now is the season/for war with no reason"? Perhaps this is 2007's glum and regressive update of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "All we are saying/is give peace a chance"; contradictory (or polyvocal) Iggy even showed up to sing a line in Sean Ono Lennon's 1991 version of his parents' pacifistic song.
"Free and Freaky in the USA" alludes to someone's sister gone to war, now with "a guy upon a leash", as in Lynette England's abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Yet the singer shrugs it off as he thinks about it at the beach. In the voice of the pugnacious, socially ugly American, he cites England and France's warm beer, stinky cheese, and propensity to "walk bold" when over there. Picking up a black woman in a pizza parlor meant "The End of Christianity"; is this some sort of southern expression like "losing my religion"? I'd think the woman might be a churchgoer herself, their wild Saturdays followed by redemptive Sunday mornings under the Reverend's, and the Gospel choir's, spell. But such a tale isn't the song Iggy delivers us.
The melodic and hummable "My Idea of Fun" is yet another attempt by Iggy to have a hit song, a quest deeply burned into him. He's come close with "Little Know It All" in 2005, "Candy" in 1990 and "Real Wild One" in 1988 (and his striving-to-please-everybody album Party, 1980). The song sports economical Ron Asheton guitar leads, whipping back and forward like a lure cast into a trout stream from a supple fishing rod. "Trollin'" is another kind of Great Lakes fishing, here a metaphor for jadedly cruising for sex. While Ron's guitar employs plenty of sustain, and Steve MacKay adds sax, on the title song "The Weirdness", Iggy goes into his Frank Sinatra croon; we are reminded that he secured his 1978 album deal from Arista by serenading Clive Davis with "The Shadow of Your Smile". I'd most like to see Iggy sing of losing his beloved to a "Mexican Guy" while sharing the stage with the Mysterians' Question Mark, born Rudy Martinez. "I'm Fried" is a show-ending raveup much like "Drink New Blood" on Iggy's underrated 2001 solo album Beat 'Em Up.
The cover sports the logo band's that appeared on the 1969 album from Elektra, in silver foil (an album cover trope of the time, like Cream's double-disk "Wheels of Fire", or the Moog synthesizer-driven Silver Apples of the Sun). The album title "The Weirdness" is written in a hand reminiscent of Ralph Steadman's graphics for Hunter Thompson Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I believe the Stooges' audience relate to these visual clues, however unconsciously.
Albums like Green Day's American Idiot convince Iggy that he can play music loud and fast as he likes (especially with his groundbreaking old bandmates), ecrase l'infame et épater le bourgeoisie, yet still grab the brass ring. Iggy would be unable to make an unabashedly leftist album as the Stooges with the reportedly conservative Asheton brothers, nor would he necessarily feel compelled to. He complains that his well-heeled Miami neighbors are "Really Awful People", causing him to cry "I can't live among my class". Awwww...! And after all those times they've heard "Lust for Life" on their cruise ship commercials. Iggy complains about the strain of making withdrawals from the ATM, and women who thanklessly take his money and then deposit it.
There is a sad tradition of heartfelt and expressive Michigan musicians, starting out rangy, mangy and wiry, succumbing to fame as subject matter for their work, and thus running out of the insights that brought them notice and success: witness Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem. Iggy rarely transcends his doldrums of wealthy ennui with a line as rich as the Rolling Stones' "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me" thirty-five years ago, when the Stooges were still young enough to make Raw Power intensely about sex and the Vietnam war. After all, The Weirdness is a likeable album, picking up where the Stooges left off, despite keeping the hit-and-miss songwriting of their 1973 junk-drenched "Cock in My Pocket" era. It reflects the bad of our time in a good way, carried upon a fistful of good hard beats. And it's kind of nice to see sixty-year-olds getting paid to still play--in all senses of the word--Punk.
Mike Mosher reviewed Raw Power for the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School Optimist, March 1973, where it was rumored that rough lyrics to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" could be found scratched by Iggy '65 on a desk, somewhere in the school.