Ig coaxes James Williamson out for a victory lap...
Ig coaxes James Williamson out for a victory lap…
When Iggy And The Stooges announced their arrival with Raw Power, the singer was in no mood to equivocate. Over the course of a brisk 34 minutes, Pop, the streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm, considered alienation, disease, damnation, sex and death. In Iggy’s formulation, these things existed in the same emetic moment.
As a statement of violent disaffection, it doesn’t get any purer, not least because Iggy’s words were illuminated by James Williamson’s thrashing guitar. Williamson was self-taught and savage, though it’s notable that he wrote on an acoustic guitar, and the metallic riffs concealed melodic subtleties.
Forty years on, with the warped glam of Raw Power established as a foundation stone of punk, metal, and all their revolting tributaries, what’s left? There is the matter of personnel: Ron Asheton died in 2009, ending the revival of The Stooges (the slightly different lineup which backed Iggy on the group’s first two LPs). Iggy’s career, meanwhile, is in limbo. His solo records are barely released, but they suggest his tastes have broadened beyond nihilistic ejaculation. Williamson, returning to rock after retiring from Silicon Valley, must surely bring a different energy to the party, even if he is supported on bass by Mike Watt (ex-Minutemen, a youthful 55), and original drummer Scott Asheton.
The opener, “Burn”, suggests that the vigour of Williamson’s playing hasn’t diminished. It’s a metallic rocker, with a sombre Iggy intoning about temptation and draughty windows. He may say, “I’m not on trial, Berlin-style.” He does say, “I got a lesson to learn, because there’s no God in this crowd.” The tune is fierce, but truthfully, the exact nature of Iggy’s fire isn’t clear. It’s followed by the self-explanatory “Sex And Money”, a thin tune with a sleazy sax – closer to New Values than Raw Power – and a lyric about lust which appears to contain the line “nipples come and nipples go”. Then “Job”, a brooding thrash, in which Iggy opens negotiations with the line “I’m just a guy with a rockstar attitude”, before retreating into a grumble about having a badly paid job. These reflections, though, are nothing, compared to “DD’s”, which celebrates the glories of large bosoms (“doesn’t matter if you’re real or fake”).
Base desires have always been Iggy’s currency, but it’s hard to imagine his heart is in these words. You could argue they’re Grinderman-style exercises in form – emotional blurts, without the need for further edification. Iggy has made a career out of dislocation and disgust, but it’s usually expressed with more poetry than is evident on “Dirty Deal”, which rails about bad contracts and how “the system’s rigged to favour crooks”; or “Gun”, a conventional rocker expressing broad disgust with everything and everyone. The title track is a neuralgic paean to depression, with Iggy positioning himself as “a hanging judge of the world I’m in”. It’s no “Search And Destroy”, but it does contain a note of mature self-deprecation.
Of course, Ready To Die was never going to match Raw Power. When you’re 65, rekindling youth’s righteous fury can sound like grouchiness or – worse – play-acting. But there are worthwhile moments, mostly when Williamson leaves space for Pop to express his vulnerability. The melancholy “Unfriendly World” has Iggy crooning over wiry guitar, and because he’s not playing his cartoonish self he wrests emotional weight from a bitter lyric hung around the line “fame and fortune make me sick, and I can’t get out”.
The album closes with “Beat That Guy”, a gentler piece about familiar Iggy concerns – being alone, mostly – which sounds like The Dictators playing Sonny & Cher. Finally, there is “The Departed”, a lovely, end-of-the-party reflection with Iggy singing about nightlife being a death trip. “I can’t feel, nothing real/My lights are all burned out”, he croons over steel guitar and military drums.
He sounds as if he is singing through gritted false teeth. He sounds exhausted. He sounds sincere.
What does James Williamson add?
He’s an angry and destabilising guitarist. It’s a tradition that goes back to Link Wray, and probably further. Maybe Charlie Christian.
Has his guitar playing evolved over the years?
He tried some evolving in the mid-’70s with Kill City and he played a very nice piece of music on my album New Values – the guitar track to “Don’t Look Down”. Then he did other things with his life. But is age necessarily an evolution? If we successfully age and then don’t die, then I’d say he’s definitely evolved, ’cos he’s still alive and he can play a guitar!
How have you evolved?
There’s half baritone songs on this record, and it’s a warmer register for me at this point in my life. I still like barking like a little dog sometimes. I don’t puke as much as I used to. The puking, screaming and incarceration tend to go together. Hopefully when you want a little bit of that back in your life you can do it theatrically, or carefully in a controlled setting!
Based on “DD’s” – are you a breast man?
Yes! But not to the exclusion of the other parts. If you haven’t got them, I’ll go to another area. We can work out something!
INTERVIEW: ALASTAIR McKAY
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