Something about Iggy Pop brings out the beast in guitar players. On the first two Stooges albums, he drove Ron Asheton to turn his wah-wah into a flamethrower. Then, on the 1973 comeback, Raw Power, he goaded James Williamson into playing a lifetime reputation's worth of shredded-skull brain-aflame leads. Even David Bowie got the bug while producing Iggy's 1977 solo debut, The Idiot, an album prized by Bowie freaks because it's the only place you can hear him play so much guitar. (As Iggy once noted, "David plays better Angry Young Guitar than any Angry Young Guitar Player I've ever heard.") It's no surprise that none of these guitarists ever burned that way again, not without the Ig. But whatever Iggy's got, he's still got it — on the new Stooges album, he gets Ron Asheton to make the same old wah-wah sound as brutal as ever.
Reunions are always a sketchy idea, yet the Stooges did it right, hitting the road to earn their title back one gig at a time. For the past four years, they've been blasting through universally acclaimed live shows, leaving even the snarkiest observers shaken at the band's power. But all that energy must have turned on a light bulb and made Iggy wonder what he'd been doing with his time lately. On his last solo album, Skull Ring, the Stooges played on only four songs, yet they made his regular backup band sound like hopeless twits. So it was inevitable the Stooges would hit the studio for The Weirdness. "You can't tell me this is not a suave thing to do," Iggy yelps in the opener, "Trollin'," and nobody's going to try.
The Weirdness has the feel of a quickie, banged out in a week with engineer Steve Albini. The Stooges don't fret about living up to their rep, which comes as a relief, since only a moron would expect this to touch The Stooges, Fun House or Raw Power. Instead, they keep it light; none of the twelve songs sound like they took longer than a six-pack to write. Unlike last year's New York Dolls comeback, this is a real reunion, with all three living members of the original quartet: Ron Asheton on guitar, his brother Scott on drums and the Minutemen's Mike Watt on bass in place of the late Dave Alexander. They even recruit Steve Mackay, the long-gone sax man who played the voice-of-death howls on Fun House. The only ex-Stooge missing is Williamson, who dropped out of music years ago for Silicon Valley.
Iggy squawks about his favorite topics: girls who turn him on ("Trollin' "), girls who take his money ("She Took My Money"), guys who aren't as cool as Iggy ("Idea of Fun") and drugs ("Mexican Guy"). You've heard his jokes before, especially when he tries incredibly original topics like yuppies ("Greedy Awful People") and the French ("Free and Freaky"). "ATM" is a nice, sleazy city-night fantasy, and "The Weirdness" shows off his Sinatra-on-Skid Row croon. Still, you know how reunion albums work: You listen for the playing, not for the songs, which are mediocre at best. If you heard them play "Trollin' " in between "Loose" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog," you might appreciate the chance for a bathroom break. Nobody's going to scream for any of these tunes, and the half-assed production has a kind of apologetic tone. Like all reunion albums, it's a flier for the live show, and the point is to hear the Asheton brothers bring it. Scott's drums remain the band's most overlooked strength, and Ron stomps his wah-wah pedal like he caught it keying his car. That wah-wah must have seemed like a pretty corny conceit, even (especially?) in 1969. But on The Weirdness, there's nothing too quaint about it.