Monday, January 22, 2007

Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power

The uneasy feeling begins before the music starts. You can’t put your finger on it, but you know there is something wrong. As you stare at the cover, you can’t help but hear the pastor of your church echoing in your head. He told you rock n’ roll was the instrument of the devil, and that it would make you do all sorts of sinful acts. He said it would make you want to drink, dance and have sex before marriage. You always doubted him when he launched into one of his diatribes; but this time he may be right.

Imagine a wooden shed filled with 5,000 kegs of gunpowder, 60 cases of dynamite and an atomic bomb. Throw a lit match in the shed and watch what happens. The resulting explosion is exactly what Raw Power sounds like. The record is a smoldering manifesto of unapologetic testosterone, shouted out with manic glee by Iggy Pop and his merry band of Stooges.

When The Stooges released Raw Power in 1973, they were on the verge of collapse. Guitarist Ron Asheton and bassist Ron Alexander left the band, while Iggy delved headfirst into heroin addiction. He hired James Williamson as his new guitarist, but was unable to land a deal. The band found a savior in David Bowie, who signed the band to his management company and landed them a deal with Columbia Records.

Raw Power was never meant to be a hit record. It was too weird, too loud and too abrasive for it’s time. No band was making such anarchic noise in 1973, but three short years later four punks from Long Island began their assault on the music world. The loud distorted pop of the Ramones led to the nilhism of The Sex Pistols, which lead to the fiery politics of The Clash. Raw Power is the root from which punk rock grew.

However, influence is useless without great songs. Raw Power delivers. Iggy Pop casts aside his ambition to be Lou Reed and emerges as the most primal frontman in the history of rock n' roll. His fangs are out, and venom spews from ever pore. The change is most evident on the album’s standout track “Search and Destroy.” Iggy howls that he is “a streetwalking cheetah with a heartful of napalm,” over a guitar riff that is on the verge of collapse.

The album never lets up for a second, not even on the ballads. The band becomes more dangerous on the slow numbers, because Iggy’s paranoia is magnified. When Iggy asks the listener for danger, you don’t know what to do because it sounds like he has more danger than he can handle.

When the Stooges broke up in 1973, it seemed like they would be an also ran in the history of rock n’ roll. The exact opposite has occurred because unlike a lot of popular music from that year, Raw Power retains its impact. The Stooges’ music strikes the most primal depths of the human spirit, and sometimes that beast needs to be let out of its cage.