Rock 'n' roll didn't get more feral than Ann Arbor's Stooges. In their prime, the inimitable Iggy Pop, Ron and Scott Asheton and the late Dave Alexander used their basic skills to tear a hole through the pretension and snobbery that had infected the music by the time the Stooges began busting up Michigan ballrooms in the late '60s. They were the ur-punk band, and tunes like "1969," "Search and Destroy" and "T.V. Eye" exposed - and at times reveled in - the violence, boredom and general unease that characterized America in the high Vietnam War years. They were active for just over half a decade, and after they imploded in 1974, Pop was the only member to move on to a successful solo career.
But with everyone from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana having cited the Stooges as an important influence, their cult following grew to the point where it was impossible for Pop and his former bandmates not to power up their mean machine for one more go. After reuniting to play the Coachella Festival in 2003, they played a series of concerts. That made sense, since partisans who'd seen them in their heyday argued that their chaotic live shows were a revelation. The live dates were well received, and the Ashetons and saxophonist Steve MacKay got a taste of the face-to-face adulation that Pop had enjoyed as a cult star and punk godfather.
Understandably, just playing concerts wasn't enough. The Stooges didn't want to be an oldies act for baby boomers and their offspring; they wanted to create something new. And so the band (augmented by Minutemen/firehose post-punk legend Mike Watt on bass) went into the studio with the uncompromising Steve Albini. The Weirdness is the product of those sessions, and it's a very weird document indeed.
These days Pop is obsessed with the corrupting influence of money. Nearly half the tracks deal with how it shades - and eventually undercuts - all interpersonal relationships. That's a reasonable stance to take, I guess, but Pop delivers his typically unadorned lyrics (e.g., "You can't have friends/Money's gonna see to that") with so little passion that most of these tunes come off as mechanical and unfinished. Worse still, he declaims rather than sings most songs. Without Ron Asheton's basic, adamantine riffing (nearly every garage-trained guitarist owes something to him), tracks like "My Idea of Fun," "Free and Freaky" and "She Took My Money" would be devoid of heat.
Albini's rather dry production isn't very helpful either. If he'd added an extra dollop of echo or reverb to Pop's Midwestern twang, the vocals might have found a more comfortable place in the mix. But he's not the reason The Weirdness often comes off as a perfunctory exercise. With the exception of Ron Asheton, the Stooges are unwilling to attack the new material with abandon. And for a band that amassed a huge cult following precisely because it often sounded like everyone was teetering on the edge of chaos, that's a big problem.
What a disappointment.