While releasing only three records between 1969 and 1973 before its implosion, The Stooges remains one of the most influential and ahead of its time bands ever. And its fearsome lead singer, Iggy Pop -- famous for his commanding bare-chested performances, self-mutilation and unpredictable stage antics -- is one of rock’s most iconic stars, laying the foundation for punk rock. Still, even at 66, it’s astonishing to think that someone who’s lived as hard and for so long as Iggy Pop is just as explosive and enduring.
After reforming in 2003, the band has seen a resurgence that’s culminated in both highs, like in March 2010 when the Stooges and Iggy Pop were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and lows, when Ron Asheton died in 2009. Now with a new album, Ready To Die, Iggy And The Stooges are reforming again.
Yet Ready To Die (out April 30 on Fat Possum) is not just another in-name-only reunion, with only Iggy at the helm. Following Asheton's death, guitarist James Williamson has rejoined the band -- his first collaboration with Iggy in over 30 years. Original drummer Scott Asheton and The Minutemen's Mike Watt, who’s toured with The Stooges since the band first got back together, also return.
As such, the band views Ready To Die as its true followup to 1973's iconic Raw Power (nevermind that the Stooges last album was 2007's The Weirdness). And, sure, in its loudest, most rocking peaks -- bashers like "Job" "Ready To Die," or "Gun" -- The Stooges conjure a bit of that same sinister, lip-curling punk intensity. With soaring and seething guitar riffs and a relentless, throttling momentum, it’s easy to imagine Pop hurling himself into the crowd for a little mayhem during "Burn"'s blistering lines "Burn, burn, you’re taking over as the world turns." Elsewhere though, like on "DD's," Iggy sounds downright silly.
But this is also an album that finds Iggy Pop in an introspective mood. Singing in a low, gravelly Tom Waits-like rumble, Pop grapples with friendship, aging ("Pages yellowing like me / Will I ever be free?," he sings in "Unfriendly World"), and mortality. In "The Departed" -- the first song that Williamson and Pop wrote for the record, which they premiered at a 2011 tribute show for Ron Asheton -- he sings "I can’t nothing feel, my lights are burned out."
And in "The Departed"'s closing lines, "So where is the life we started?" -- as Pop's ravaged voice warbles out of tune -- it's clear that young anarchist misfit punk Iggy, who was once "searching to destroy," shows signs of world-weariness. It’s a rare moment of earnest reflection from an artist known for frenzied stage diving and songs intentionally made to sound dumb. While Ready To Die perhaps falls short of the brooding immediacy of Raw Power, (how could anything match that high bar?), The Stooges, after 40 years, are still capable of delivering songs will killer guitar riffs and a whole lot of sneering attitude.