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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
The Stooges
The Stooges & Fun House
Rhino Records

Rating: 9.5/10 ?


September 6, 2005
Rating: 9/10 (The Stooges), 10/10 (Fun House)

The Stooges are rock 'n' roll. Others have said more or less the same thing with more precision and poetic flair, but I will venture to say it again because it's almost all one can say about Detroit's four most beloved miscreants. This equation has been universally accepted as fact; it's been exploded and explored to examine The Stooges' impact on all things part and parcel to the rock aesthetic - including, but not limited to, sex, mind-altering substances, tight pants, urbanite cool, the reptile brain and keeping the neighbors awake all night. They're more cultural icons than sonic icons, with images of band members and their moniker standing as shorthand for a daunting swath of American society.

The difficulty in discussing The Stooges' music, then, lies in keeping the discussion that limited. It's especially a problem for those of us young enough to have grown up knowing Iggy Pop as Nona F. Mecklenberg's father on The Adventures of Pete and Pete; after encounter upon encounter with The Stooges as cultural icons, actually listening to one of their albums becomes a bit of an afterthought. Whether it was through Jon Spencer, the Estrus roster and the rest of the 90s garage rock underground or the 00s' dismal "rock revival", my generation has even been apt to feel like we've already heard The Stooges more times than we ever would have liked: I remember listening to their debut for the first time as a teenager and thinking that it more or less sounded no different than I had predicted it would.

The Stooges are more than just embodiments for a particular brand of hipness or for the deconstruction of [that or] any sort of hipness. By so deeply entrenching themselves in rock and all of its trappings, the band made music that comments just as much on its own aesthetic as it does on the world outside of it. Their three studio albums capture a rock band coming to grips with what it means to be a rock band, and now two of those moments of struggle have been masterfully remastered and repackaged, allowing their tensions to resonate with higher fidelity and greater context.

If there's one problem with reissuing The Stooges and Fun House together, it's that the latter so greatly surpasses the former that it ends up being unfair to both albums. Longtime fans and newbies alike are bound to compare, when in reality both works could just as well have come from two different bands. The best we can do is enjoy the growth in contrast and value both albums as cornerstones in rock history.

1969's The Stooges' final mix displeased the band, and for good reason: it's not a flat recording, but it feels like layers of necessary grime had been shaved off the songs to make them presentable to the listening public. John Cale's original mixes, available for the first time on the reissue's bonus disc, go far to redeem the album and make a case for it as more than Stooges lite. These early versions, which Elektra shelved in favor of more low-end heavy, streamlined takes, give the guitars a blurry White Light/White Heat treatment: more ambiguous and esoteric, but still capable of ripping a hole in your throat. If you want the definitive version of "No Fun" or "I Wanna Be Your Dog," you've got a new place to turn.

As watered-down as the guitars on the original album may be, it's still Ron Asheton's shredding that elevates The Stooges above other rock records. If Asheton didn't throw down a sprawling, acid-induced lead in every song, then the album would only be a slightly messier take on classic British R & B with a dash of numbed, disaffected cool. Asheton complicates matters, however; his transcendently noisy guitar demonstrates The Stooges are fully aware of exploring rock's potential for true artistry instead of just attempting to return to its dirtier formative years. What this album really captures is a band caught between interpreting their style as a cathartic, absurd expression of humanity's baseness and inanity or viewing it as the artistic medium that The Beatles, Love, The Byrds (and the popularity of the album format) had supposedly elevated it to. The Stooges ultimately decide that rock is both of these things, juxtaposing vulgar desires and clumsy phrasing against gutsy guitar tapestries and relentless, expansive jams. The extended versions of "Ann" and "No Fun" demonstrate the group's ability to look beyond both the three minute pop song and the overwrought suite in their early years and also predict Fun House.

The Stooges' sophomore record stands as one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. Each of its seven songs could be the best song on either of the band's other two albums, but this album would fall without any of them in place. Its structure is genius: side one starts out with "Down on the Street" and "Loose"'s rabble-rousing proto-punk, turns on the pressure cooker with "T.V. Eye", and then stretches out and roles around in the "Dirt," while side two opens with "1970"'s doomsday riff, introduces a skronking saxophone that will play an integral part in the rest of the album at the song's end, disintegrates into the title track's punishing vamp, and closes with "L.A. Blues"'s blast of pure destructive noise. Each song expands upon the avenues opened up in the one before it, but we begin to realize that sometimes expansion is implosion, when the only logical place to go is nowhere. In the first album's "1969," Iggy played the hip nihilist, but this time the nothingness is less enticing but paradoxically more rewarding (at least from an aesthetic standpoint).

By hearkening such a roiling apocalypse, Fun House would appear to be the epitome of rock 'n' roll, and as such it exposes rock for what it really is: an explosive meeting place of seemingly disparate forms. In summoning the rock gods, The Stooges look back to the blues, sideways to the libidinous funk of James Brown's late 60s concerts, and upwards to the clamorous universal worship song that John Coltrane began to pursue in 1965. Rock advances by returning to its roots in the Deep South, and it rocks harder and filthier by drawing from an avant jazz auteur who spent hours a day studying scales and classical compositions. Fun House defuses the notion of experimental or alternative rock's white provenance, as well as the idea that rock is its own genre in the first place; and yet, it seems that it's also the moment that rock came into its own, both culturally and stylistically.

The reissued Fun House's bonus tracks, all pulled from the now out-of-print complete sessions box set, only enrich the listening experience. Standouts include the third take of "1970," which strikes with an even scuzzier riff but ends with more fluid, A Love Supreme-influenced sax blowing, and two out-takes: the snarling "Slide (Slidin' the Blues)" and the almost spiritual "Lost in the Future," which might just be the least menacing track The Stooges ever recorded.

To answer the question that's been on your mind the entire time you've been reading this, yes, these albums demand repurchase. The remastering rivals the vinyl editions and the bonus tracks elucidate just where The Stooges were coming from. In revisiting these albums, just be sure to check your preconceived notions about what rock is at the door and embrace the most glorious paradox ever created by bored, drugged-out twentysomethings.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan

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