Two decades ago, new albums from The Stooges, Mötley Crüe and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions
If there ever was a band voted Least Likely to Succeed, it was The Stooges. Back in the peace-and-love ’60s, these four pimply punks from Ann Arbor, Mich., were nothing like the tie-dyed, rockin’ teenage combos of the day. The Stooges weren’t pretty. They weren’t smart. They weren’t sophisticated. And talented? Judging by the amateurish blooze-rawk sludge of their first album, they could barely play. Like the act whose name they shared, they were a laughingstock.
But The Stooges had a secret weapon: A magnetic mutant of a singer named Jim Osterberg, who went by the handle Iggy Pop. Pop was a doofus savant plugged straight into a power plant on another planet. Onstage, he wore a dog collar, smeared peanut butter on his body, rolled in broken glass, dove into the crowd and generally freaked the hell out of the dope-smoking hippies. Somewhere along the way, he also helped invent punk, thus earning The Stooges a spot in music history — a smelly, obscure little corner but still a place of their own. And the Fun House was its HQ. Released in 1970, Fun House was one of the most hated albums of its day — a nihilistic, atonal blast of teen frustration driven by primal drums, two-chord guitar grinds and feral howling. For The Stooges, it was also commercial suicide. Years later, when the world caught up, everybody realized they were the original punk band and Fun House was their twisted opus. By then, naturally, it was too late. The Stooges were long gone from the scene of the crime.
Luckily, the evidence — 13 reels of eight-track tape — was still in the vaults. And thanks to some musical detective work, we now have 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions, a limited-edition, seven-CD box of every tune, every take, every lyric and every bum note that went into this cult classic.
By the numbers alone, 1970 is one massive undertaking. The original Fun House was 36 minutes long and contained seven tunes — rockers Down on the Street, Loose, T.V. Eye, 1970 and Fun House, the dirgey ballad Dirt and the free-jazz freak-out L.A. Blues. The box has 142 tracks — 109 songs and 33 bits of studio chatter. There are 16 full and partial takes of 1970, 32 of Loose, 15 of T.V. Eye, 12 of Dirt, 17 of Down on the Street, seven of Fun House and two of L.A. Blues, along with a few blues-jam warmups and a never-released tune called Lost in the Future. All told, it’s seven hours of unbridled, unreleased Stooges.
Who wants to sit through that? Well, I do. So will any Stooges fanatic. But what’s remarkable about 1970 is even if you don’t genuflect at the altar of Iggy, you won’t be bored. Presented in the order they were laid down live in the studio, these tracks present a narrative all their own, forming a revealing behind-the-scenes documentary of the band. The biggest revelation? These guys can play. Despite their rep as slacker hackers, Iggy, guitarist Ron Asheton, his drummer brother Scott, and bassist Dave Alexander weren’t fooling around. As they bash through take after take, you can hear them tightening up, muscling the songs into shape, doggedly inching closer to the perfect groove. Granted, they’re no virtuosos. But rudimentary doesn’t mean untalented. Guitarist Asheton offers up 100 solos and seldom flubs. The rhythm section remains just as rock-solid on Take 25 as they were on the first. Iggy’s wigged-out intensity never wavers, even as he fiddles with lyrics — for better (Loose’s original lines have him “flying on a red hot weenie”) and for worse (1970’s initial chorus, “all night in a world that’s lame,” beats the final version of “all night till it blows away”).
And there’s no shortage of cool studio shenanigans caught on tape, including Iggy reciting a poem about Stoogeland; a wrasslin’ roadie who raps about “Da Stooches;” Iggy quipping on Take 22 of Loose that “we should just put out a single,” to which the producer retorts, “How about an album with 22 takes of Loose?” And, finally, there’s all the original artwork, augmented by pictures of the tape boxes and comprehensive, anecdote-filled liner notes.
All this doesn’t come cheap. Available only online from the U.S., this sucker will set you back more than $200 after exchange, tax, duty and such. But it’s money well spent. Unlike the bloated hits collections that constitute most box sets, 1970 is a true historic document that keeps you coming back for more.
Hear that sound? It’s The Stooges having the last laugh.
Live In NYC
If Iggy’s ever done a lame gig, we haven’t heard it or seen it. Hell, one time in Edmonton in the ’80s, he broke his ankle onstage — and finished the show despite being literally lame! I’d love to have a tape of that performance. But I’ll make do with this set from a New York gig in ’86. Even though the era isn’t necessarily prime Iggy — he was touring behind commercial comeback album Blah Blah Blah — the Pop king delivers a typically frenzied, driven performance. Backed by one of his countless, faceless backing bands (this one includes ex-members of Psychedelic Furs, U.K. Subs, Hanoi Rocks and Madness, believe it or not), the Ig and his booming baritone bulldoze through a set list that makes up for its moments of ’80s cheesiness (China Girl, Winners and Losers, Real Wild Child) with the occasional snarling remake of a classic (Five Foot One, Down on the Street). It’s no Metallic K.O., but it stands on its own two feet.
Coming soon to a strip club near you: These 11 peeler-friendly tracks from L.A.’s eternal glam-slammers Mötley Crüe find the boys none the worse for wear, despite the loss of stickhandler and home-porn star Tommy Lee. With former Ozzy drummer Randy Castillo behind the kit, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars rev up their biker-rock riffs and burn rubber through a set of cartoon-metal odes to girls, girls and girls — be they hookers (Hell on High Heels), dominatrixes (Treat Me Like the Dog I Am), jailbait (Dragstrip Superstar), adult film actresses (Porno Star), or preachers’ daughters (She Needs Rock ‘n’ Roll). Is it brainless, shameless and sexist? If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be true Crüe. Even so, next to their last couple of serious albums, New Tattoo is a colourful shot of old-style hair-metal in all its cheeseball glory.
Jesse James Dupree
It’s hard to take a man seriously when he plays the chainsaw. Of course, Jesse James Dupree — singer (er, better make that vocalist) and Stihl soloist in boogie-rock outfit Jackyl — has never worried about being taken seriously. And he isn’t about to start now. Although he puts down the saw on this solo debut, these dozen tunes have all the greasy sleaze and chicken-fried shtik you’ve come to expect from JJ. Mainline, Satisfied and First Taste of Freedom have all the Southern-rock choogle of Black Crowes at their roughest, fuelled by Dupree’s throat-abusing vocals, which suggest he could be the bastard child of Axl Rose and Jim Dandy Mangrum. Dupree scores best on the covers, though, delivering butt-kicking versions of Joe Tex’s I Gotcha and Sly Stone’s Higher. Jesse may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at its best, Foot Fetish is a cut above.
One Minute Silence
Buy Now … Saved Later
Here’s something you don’t hear everyday: A bruising, hard-edged rap-metal outfit from England. Too bad their citizenship is their most unusual feature. Otherwise, this London foursome sounds pretty much like all their American counterparts on this sophomore CD. There’s the same pummelling beats, the same rubbery, depth-charge bass, the same crunching guitars, the same quiet verses/screaming choruses, the same positivism and politics. To be fair, these guys manage to pull it off better than most — if you can’t wait for the next RATM, Korn or Limp Bizkit CD, this sucker will tide you over quite nicely. Of course, it would be better if you were getting the next Korn album to tide you over until One Minute Silence’s new CD.
With their futuristic helmets, dark goggles, Japanese-industrial typography and song titles like Astrogimp and Kaboom, 12 Rods look like they should be a Devo for the new millennium. But this Minneapolis foursome’s sound owes more to ’70s and ’80s popsters Hall and Oates, Pursuit of Happiness and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. The latter is no wonder — Todd produced this 12-track disc, sharpening the hooks of the band’s post-new wave pop with his slick studio wizardry and blue-eyed-soul aesthetic. Frontman Ryan Olcott’s songwriting style doesn’t hurt either. Like Todd, Fountains of Wayne or TPOH’s Moe Berg, he has a dry wit and smart mouth that add a drop of piss and vinegar to the melodic dream-pop of Separation Anxieties, a loose concept album about romantic dysfunction. “My ex thinks she’s so tough,” he vents in the power-pop treat What Has Happened? “She lost her libido then dumped me for a punk.” Are we not men?
Sound of Water
What with everybody and their sampler mining the same vein of swinging ’60s London pop these days, it’s easy to overlook another album from long-running U.K. outfit Saint Etienne. Easy, but also rather a large mistake. After all, this co-ed trio started the ball rolling a decade ago by weaving three-minute pop gems into deep, trancy club beats, setting the stage for everything from ’90s Britpop to the new Teutonic boom. Fittingly, both those beneficiaries — represented by Stereolab’s Sean O’Hagan and To Rococo Rot’s Robert and Ronald Lippok — repay that debt here, helping St. E fashion a set of sweet, swirly sounds to ease all that post-millennial tension. Ranging from lush ambient washes to eep-orp robo-synths to jazzy soul — sometimes all on the same song — Sound of Water’s grooves ebb and flow, providing the perfect setting for Sarah Cracknell’s breathy vocals, which recall the finest moments of ’60s pop from Bacharach to The Carpenters. Heavenly.
Art & Life
Some say the Jamaican toasters of the ’60s — DJs who rhymed and sang over the records they played — were the original rappers. If that’s so, then 28-year-old Anthony Moses David is as old-school as they come. A peformer since the age of eight, Beenie (slang for short) has long been a star in reggae and dancehall circles. Here, he takes a confident step into more contemporary turf, adding American hip-hop beats and samples to his traditional sound to produce an appealing hybrid with the loose-limbed flow of reggae, the bump ‘n’ grind exuberence of dancehall and the street-level swagger of rap. A guest roster that includes Wyclef Jean, Kelis, Mya and Steve Perry of The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies should broaden his appeal even more. He may not be one of the original rappers, but with Art and Life, Beenie comes off as original nonetheless.
Easy Mo Bee
Now Or Never: Odyssey 2000
If any other hip-hopper delivered only two raps on his debut album, he’d be shot down faster than a clubgoer who swiped Puff Daddy’s bar stool. When that hip-hopper is Easy Mo Bee, however, it makes perfect sense. For a decade, Easy — born Osten Harvey — has been one of hip-hop’s top producers, arrangers and beat technicians, working his magic for everyone from Busta Rhymes to B.I.G. and Miles Davis to GZA. On this solo joint, he takes the helm but generally remains out of sight, building pumping grooves while leaving guest vocalists such as Busta, Gang Starr, Goodie Mob and Snoop Dogg to rock the mic. Truth be told, though, Mo Bee’s tunes aren’t much to speak of — just the usual Jeep-beat bounces and tales from the ‘hood. And after a while, without a constant voice to anchor the album, the revolving-door roster seems disjointed and unfocused. For a guy who’s the buzz of the industry, Mo Bee’s Odyssey doesn’t have much sting.
The Bedroom Tapes
Somewhere Between Heaven & Earth
I know it’s insensitive, but I couldn’t help it: When I learned that Carly Simon made this CD at home while recovering from breast cancer, I had one thought: Man, this is gonna be depressing. Wrong. Full points to Simon for not turning her grim personal trauma into a self-pitying weepfest, or even worse, a ‘celebration of life.’ Instead, she freed herself to create heartfelt, experimental songs that eschew songwriting rules and cliches for organic flow and intimate originality. Yes, some tunes — notably ballads Scar and I Forget — are informed by her illness. But Simon leavens the mood with silly numbers like Big Dumb Guy, suggesting that even if laughter isn’t the best medicine, it doesn’t hurt. Although session men sweeten these tracks, Bedroom Tapes is Simon’s most personal album of late. It may also be her finest. More music as grief therapy can be found on Cindy Bullens’ Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth, which she wrote to help work through the death of her 11-year-daughter from cancer. She is more openly sentimental than Simon — these 11 tracks are full of angels, heaven and little birds that fly away. But the emotions are honest and touching, and fit gracefully with a roots-rock soundtrack that reminds you of Melissa Etheridge. You can tell it’s an album Bullens had to make. It’s also an album you want to hear.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Looking for Just Another Night, We Gotta Get Out of Here, All the Way From Memphis or Irene Wilde? Look someplace else. This two-CD anthology from former Mott the Hoople leader Ian Hunter isn’t your typical hits set. Instead, it emphasizes rare and previously unreleased tracks from the ringlet-topped, constantly shaded icon — soundtrack tunes, outtakes from his solo records, a live version of All the Young Dudes with the fanboys of Def Leppard. For Hunter-gatherers and fans of Ian’s big-lunged, Dylanesque vocals, along with his potent fusion of ’50s rock and ’70s glam, it’s a must-have. The casual fan, however, might want to start elsewhere — like with the Mott and Hunter albums that feature all those hits above.
If you consider fairly standard live versions of Break on Through and Roadhouse Blues — not to mention a minute-long snippet of Jim Morrison listing the names of U.S. cities — to be essential Doors rarities, well, you’re a bigger fan than I. And if you are, you probably have this stuff already, given that this disc was included in The Complete Studio Recordings box set last year (many of the tracks also were in the 1997 Doors Box Set). Sure, some tunes live up to their billing as critical listening — 1965 demos of Hello, I Love You and Moonlight Drive, and a home-recorded Hyacinth House, for instance, are weirdly poppy, while late-period tracks such as Whiskey, Mystics and Men find Morrison in full-blown Brechtian Lizard King persona. But let’s be honest — at this point, these tracks are as rare as naked pictures of Madonna.
The Tidy Boy & The Crazy Bastard
I don’t know who the tidy boy is, but one-man band Mark Perretta lives up to the other half of his CD’s title. This bud of Lou Barlow used to be in Folk Implosion (when, fittingly, it was Deluxx Folk Implosion) and played on Sebadoh’s Harmacy. Neither of which come close to describing the mind-wobbling, lo-fi freakout of his second solo album. Like Bob Log or Jon Spencer minus the blues-rock frenzy, Perretta’s mutant, so-called songs typically consist of him slashing and hacking out random trashabilly-metal riffs on his guitar and yelping like Alan Vega over a clutter of primitive percussion topped with enough reverb and distortion to cover the gaping holes in the basement-grade production. Crazy? You bet. But once you hear the no-holds-barred lunacy of Taco Instead and Sponge Bath, you’ll agree Perretta is one magnificent bastard.