Friday, March 16, 2007

The Stooges- The Weirdness

The Stooges have pulled the wool over our eyes. When Iggy and the boys reunited for a series of one-off shows in 2005 and 2006, they blew fans and critics away with the same explosive energy they displayed in the early ‘70s. Invigorated by the public’s response, the band announced a new Stooges album for 2007. The result is The Weirdness, a half-baked attempt at a comeback.

There was no way that the band could top the visceral power of their first three albums, but they certainly could have tried harder than this. The Weirdness sounds very rushed, as if it were written in a few days. For a band like The Stooges, this would seem like a good thing, but none of the ideas ever take flight. The band tries so hard to sound like themselves that they come off as an imitation

The thing that made The Stooges so groundbreaking was their sound. Guitarist Ron Asheton created walls of distortion and noise. His guitar would produce squeals and moans that seemed to come from the depths of hell. He balanced the sheets of sound by creating riffs that become tattooed on the listener’s brain. On The Weirdness, Asheton’s guitar squeals in all the right places, but the riffs aren’t there. They are so bland that they sound like they come from an instructional video. All the songs bleed together. There is nothing to distinguish “Trollin’,” from “You Can’t Have Friends” or “My Idea of Fun” from “Greedy Awful People.”

Drummer Scott Asheton suffers from the same problem as his brother. His drums are exceptionally loud, but are incredibly robotic. Asheton seems to be going through the motions, not even bothering to create a groove. This is a problem, because the Stooges thrived on a groove; its part of what made them so appealing. With the lack of great riffing and robotic drumming, the mighty Stooges sound like just another punk band.

Iggy Pop could have saved this record. If he was on his A-Game, his charisma could easily transcend the banality of the music. Unfortunately, Iggy could care less, and it shows. Pop’s voice has lowered in recent years, but that’s understandable considering he is in his late 50s. However, his vocal delivery has nothing to do with nature. Iggy talks his way through each song, and his apathy for the material is palpable. The apathy extends to his lyric writing, which take arrested development to a new level. How do you respond to a 59-year old man spouting lines like “My idea of fun is killing everyone?”

When The Stooges reunited for those festival gigs last year, they proved that they could still bring the goods live. Their live gigs may still pack a punch, but the energy onstage no longer translates to a good record. Raw Power was a street walking cheetah with a heartful of napalm, but The Weirdness is a house cat with a firecracker.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

David Bowie- Diamond Dogs

Ziggy Stardust was killing his creator. David Bowie’s androgynous space alien had brought him fame and fortune, but the line was becoming blurred. Worried about being typecast in the glitter movement that he helped create, David Bowie was determined to change. On July 3, 1973, before a sold out crowd at London’s famed Hammersmith Odeon, Bowie announced Ziggy’s retirement. The next day, he fired The Spiders From Mars and prepared for the next phase of his musical journey.

When Diamond Dogs was released in 1974, it was greeted with mediocre reviews. Critics thought it was confusing and unfocused, and lambasted Bowie for firing his talented backing band. While some of the critiques remain valid, time has been kind to Diamond Dogs. Although it lacks the cohesive vision of Hunky Dory or Ziggy Stardust, it contains some of Bowie’s best work.

Diamond Dogs is loosely based on 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future. The music is considerably darker than much of Bowie’s previous work, and is fueled by paranoia and fear. The record begins with “Future Legend,” a chilling spoken word piece. Bowie describes a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, where human beings roam like packs of wild dogs. He proclaims the album “ain’t rock n’ roll,” but genocide, which leads into the title track. Bowie’s change in direction is evident from the first note. Mick Ronson’s fuzz-toned Les Paul has been replaced with a cleaner, blues inspired tone. The song has a heavy Rolling Stones influence, but more polished.

Although “Diamond Dogs” is a departure from Ziggy, it still fits into the glam motif. The first truly radical departure is “Sweet Thing,” one of Bowie’s most overlooked songs. What makes “Sweet Thing” so special is how it builds. It begins with a solitary piano chord, and the other instruments come in one by one. Bowie’s vocals begin cold and distant, but grow to a gorgeous crescendo of soul and passion. In the middle of the song, Bowie changes gears. “Candidate” is a paranoid nightmare, filled with fractured guitar riffs and a nervous saxophone. Again, the song builds slowly, and just as it reaches a breaking point, Bowie goes back into “Sweet Thing.” This three song suite is one of Bowie’s finest moments.

The three song suite is followed by “Rebel Rebel,” one of Bowie’s best known songs. “Rebel Rebel” is a great song, a sleazy glitter rocker in the great Ziggy tradition. Bowie goes out of his way to emulate Mick Ronson’s crackle, and succeeds. However, after such a stunning suite, “Rebel Rebel” feels like a step backward.

After “Rebel Rebel” the album becomes erratic. The second half of the album doesn’t further the concept, but serves as a preview for Bowie’s next incarnation: Plastic soul singer, which Bowie would fully explore on his next album, Young Americans.

It’s easy to see why Diamond Dogs received such negative reviews when it was released in 1974. Bowie really can’t seem to make up his mind. Does he still want to be Ziggy, or a soul singer? Does he want to be a blues rocker or a paranoid crooner? However, the album’s lack of a theme is what makes it so compelling. Diamond Dogs doesn’t deliver with a perfect vision, but it does offer something for every type of Bowie fan. It may not be Hunky Dory, but it is far from mediocre.