Spin Control

March 4, 2007



The Stooges, "The Weirdness" (Virgin)

Critic's rating: 1 and a halfstars

The sad but undeniable truth about the overwhelming majority of rock reunions is that they invariably disappoint, often detracting from the glories of the band the first time around. The most notable exceptions have been in the energy-uber-alles genre of punk, though even there, there have been as many artistically successful comebacks (Mission of Burma, Wire, the Buzzcocks) as there have been dismal failures (the Sex Pistols, Television, X). So it really could have gone either way for proto-punk legends the Stooges, who gave us three raw-powerful masterpieces before imploding in the mid-'70s.

The album was recorded in Chicago by punk purist Steve Albini in his always-potent audio-verite style. Guitarist Ron Asheton still packs a mighty wallop -- which will come as no surprise to anyone who followed post-Stooges combos such as the (non-British) New Order or Destroy All Monsters -- and Iggy Pop is, as always, one of the best and most primal vocalists in rock, building upon the rhythmic, guttural growls that James Brown brought to R&B and doing more with a wordless exclamation or monosyllabic chant than many singers do with an entire libretto. The first shortcoming you notice on "The Weirdness" is that Ron's brother, drummer Scott, and ringer Mike Watt on bass seem to be phoning it in.

One of the most gripping things about the original Stooges' self-titled debut was the high-octane fury of the reworked Bo Diddley groove on "1969," "No Fun" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog." On 1970's "Fun House," the rhythms were even more remarkable, finding a middle ground between free jazz and a cave stomp. And if 1973's "Raw Power" was all about James Williamson's guitar (which is the reason why the reunited Stooges skip those songs in concert), that disc's re-jiggered rhythm section of Ron and Scott still mixed punk intensity with a sexy fluidity that came from growing up in Detroit and listening to Motown.

In contrast, "The Weirdness" zooms along in a high-speed frenzy that lacks finesse and seems as generic rhythmically as anything from a major-label pop-punk band like Good Charlotte. On its own, that wouldn't be enough to mitigate the joys of Iggy's barking and yelping and Ron's amphetamine guitar, but there's also the fact that Iggy has nothing to say. No, the man has never been a lyrical genius, but with the Stooges Mach I, he was an idiot savant, as opposed to the first half of that equation heard here or during the lamer moments of his solo career ("Loco Mosquito," anyone?).

When it's enough just to listen to him howl "I feel all right!," name-checking his band and complaining about cash machines ("ATM"), pushing buttons for easy outrage in the realms of sex and race ("Trollin'," "Mexican Guy") or bragging about living fast and dying young when he's weeks away from his 60th birthday doesn't seem weird at all -- it's just tired, contrived, hollow and ultimately rather pathetic.