Raw Power

Not Rated

The Ig. Nobody does it better, nobody does it worse, nobody does it, period. Others tiptoe around the edges, make little running starts and half-hearted passes; but when you're talking about the O mind, the very central eye of the universe that opens up like a huge, gaping, suckling maw, step aside for the Stooges.

They haven't appeared on record since the Funhouse of two plus years ago. For awhile, it didn't look as if they were ever going to get close again. The band shuffled personnel like a deck of cards, their record company exhibited a classic loss of faith, drugs and depression took inevitable tolls. At their last performance in New York, the nightly highlight centered around Iggy choking and throwing up onstage, only to encore quoting Renfield from Dracula: "Flies," and whose mad orbs could say it any better, "big juicy flies ... and spiders...."

Well, we all have our little lapses, don't we? With Raw Power, the Stooges return with a vengeance, exhibiting all the ferocity that characterized them at their livid best, offering a taste of the TV eye to anyone with nerve enough to put their money where their lower jaw flaps. There are no compromises, no attempts to soothe or play games in the hopes of expanding into a fabled wider audience. Raw Power is the pot of quicksand at the end of the rainbow, and if that doesn't sound attractive, then you've been living on borrowed time for far too long.

It's not an easy album, by any means. Hovering around the same kind of rough, unfinished quality reminiscent of the Velvets' White Light/White Heat, the record seems caught in jagged pinpoints, at times harsh, at others abrupt. Even the "love" songs here, Iggy crooning in a voice achingly close to Jim Morrison's, seem somehow perverse, covered with spittle and leer: "Gimme Danger, little stranger," preferably with the lights turned low, so "I can feeeel your disease."

The band is a motherhumper. Ron Asheton has switched over to bass, joining brother Scott in the rhythm section, while James Williamson has taken charge of lead; the power trio that this brings off has to be heard to be believed. For the first time, the Stooges have used the recording studio as more than a recapturing of their live show, and with David Bowie helping out in the mix, there is an ongoing swirl of sound that virtually drags you into the speakers, guitars rising and falling, drums edging forward and then toppling back into the morass. Iggy similarly benefits, double and even triple-tracked, his voice covering a range of frequencies only an (I wanna be your) dog could properly appreciate, arch-punk over tattling sniveler over chewed microphone.

Given material, it's the only way. The record opens with "Search And Destroy," Vietnamese images ricocheting off the hollow explosions of Scott's snare, Iggy secure in his role of GI pawn as "the world's most forgotten boy," looking for "love in the middle of a fire fight." Meaning you're handed a job and you do it, right? Yes, but then "Gimme Danger" slithers along, letting you know through its obsequiously mellow acoustic guitar and slippery violin-like lead that maybe he actually likes walking that tightrope between heaven and the snakepit below, where the false step can't be recalled and the only satisfaction lies in calling your opponent's bluff and watching him fold from there. Soundtrack music for a chicken run, and will it be your sleeve that gets caught on the door handle? Hmmmm ...

Cut to "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell," first called "Hard To Beat" and the original title ditched in favor of Funhouse's "1970." If it didn't seem like such a relic of the past, the Grande Ballroom would have to be resurrected for this one, high-tailing it all the way from Iggy's opening Awright! through James' hot-wired guitar to a lavish, lovingly extended coda which'll probably be Iggy's cue to trot around the audience when they ultimately bring it onstage. "Penetration" closes off the side, the Stooges at their most sensual, lapping at the old in-out in a hypnotic manner that might even have a crack at the singles games, Clive and Columbia's promotion men willing.

"Raw Power" flips the record over, and the title track is a sure sign that things aren't about to cool down. "Raw Power is a boilin' soul/Got a son called rock 'n' roll," and when was the last time you heard anything like that? "I Need Somebody" builds from a vague "St. James Infirmary" resemblance to neatly counterpoint "Gimme Danger," Iggy on his best behavior here, while "Shake Appeal" is the throwaway, basically a half-developed riff boosted by a nice performance, great guitar break, and some on-the-beam handclaps. Leaving the remains for "Death Trip" to finish off, the only logical follow-up to "L.A. Blues" and all that came after, crawl on your belly down the long line of bespattered history as the world shudders to its final apocryphal release.

I never drink ... wine.

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