In their initial run, The Stooges crafted an unholy trinity of proto-punk rock. The raw energy of their self-titled debut (1969), Fun House (1970), and Raw Power (1973) are still highly regarded as being among the most influential rock albums of all time. Iggy of course went on to an acclaimed solo career that had its ups and downs throughout the ensuing decades. Following a long string of reunion shows that began in 2003, the original lineup (augmented by Mike Watt on bass and Fun House sax man Steve MacKay) released The Weirdness in 2007, their first album of new material in over three decades. The Stooges’ return to disc was not nearly as interesting as their return to the stage however, suffering from decent music marred by awful lyrical composition and delivery. Many folks (myself included) were happy to quietly write The Weirdness out of The Stooges history, instead turning attention to their still excellent live performances. Based on The Weirdness‘ poor reception, there was little excitement for me surrounding the announcement of another Stooges record. Over the last few days however, I’ve been unable to take Ready to Die off of repeat.
Following the sudden death of original guitarist Ron Asheton in 2009, the band brought Raw Power-era guitarist James Williamson back into the fold. Live sets since Williamson’s return have thus been heavy on Raw Power material. And while Ready to Die hardly meets the legendary status of Raw Power, that 1973 platter is certainly the most appropriate frame of reference for their latest effort. Ready to Die drops much of the pretense present on The Weirdness to focus on what this band has always done best: rock the fuck out.
Album opener “Burn” revisits the Raw Power aesthetic, a dark, sludgy rocker driven by a plodding beat, sleigh bells, and Iggy’s deep growl. This vibe continues through Ready to Die‘s initial string of songs: “Sex and Money,” “Job,” and “Gun” are pleasantly reminiscent of the original Stooges era without sounding like contrived nostalgic exploitations (perhaps a product of Williamson assuming production duties rather than enlisting an outside producer). “Sex and Money” features some particularly tasty sax work from MacKay, giving the tune thick echoes of classic Fun House material. The title track, “DD’s” and “Dirty Deal” each situate themselves in a more typical blues-rock idiom that is enjoyable, if not particularly earth-shattering. Unlike The Stooges classic triage, Ready to Die includes a hat trick of slower balladesque numbers that may not be typical Stooges material, but they do harken back to some of Iggy’s solo work. This is especially true of the advice song “Unfriendly World,” which is reminiscent of Pop’s early collaborations with David Bowie.
What makes Ready to Die work is the fact that Pop was willing to drop what All Music’s Thomas Erlewine referred to as “the strained pretension” of his lyrics on The Weirdness. Nay, Pop is far more direct this time around, an approach that may not be particularly profound, but it certainly comes off as far more honest. “I’m down on my knees for those double Ds” is not Pulitzer material, but as he sings in “Sex and Money,” “Truth is a motherfucker.” Indeed, Pop’s lyrical approach on Ready to Die is perhaps best encapsulated in “Job” – “I’m just a guy with a rock star attitude / I got no belief and I got no gratitude.”
This frankness is incredibly refreshing following the contrived stream of consciousness lyrics that prevented The Weirdness from reaching its full potential. Indeed, “refreshing” is an apt term for Ready to Die; it may not erase The Weirdness from The Stooges’ legacy, but it does a hell of a job of serving as a corrective to that misguided 2007 album.
Iggy and the Stooges stopped by The Colbert Report this week to promote Ready to Die. Following a chat with Colbert, Iggy and the boys ripped through “Job.” Check it out below!