|Iggy Pop - A Million in Prizes: The Iggy Pop Anthology|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Charles Andrews|
|Tuesday, 19 July 2005|
You may have thought it was the year of the rooster but it’s snot, it’s the year of the cocky little rooster, the stooge. Again. But this time it looks serious.
Besides this 38-song retrospective – you can’t call it a greatest hits package, considering Iggy solo or with the Stooges never made it past # 72 on the albums charts, # 28 singles – 2005 has also delivered (so far): Sony’s The Best of Iggy Pop (not to be confused with Virgin’s ’96 collection of the same name – okay, technically, that one is Nude and Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop); Rhino Records’ dueling double CD sets (adding outtakes and unreleased rarities) of the first two albums, The Stooges and Fun House (1969, 1970), and a previously unreleased original John Cale (Velvet Underground) mix 7” single of “1970” b/w “Not Right”; Demon Music’s Penetration, a collection of Stooges detritus (and there’s a lot of that for a band that really recorded only three studio albums); Skydog Records’ ’04 Tokyo reunion concert titled Telluric Chaos; Heavy Liquid, a six-CD boxed set of “band sanctioned … totally unreleased material from original master tapes” from ’72-’74, and a CD plus DVD-Audio disc package of material not in the box, titled Extended Play, from England’s Easy Action Records; Virgin’s DVD video of 1999’s “Live at the Avenue B” concert (opens with “No Shit” and “Nazi Girlfriend” – maybe a little provocative for a show in Hitler-stomped Belgium?); Iggy on radio on NPR’s Fresh Air and Little Steven’s Underground Garage; the sudden passing of his 52-year-old manager of 20 years, Art Collins, described by his raunchy client as “a big sweetheart” and “my best friend”; Pop contributing to Yoko Ono’s new book of John Lennon remembrances; increasing rumors of a new studio album from the band by the end of the year; and his current tour in Europe with most of the original band, including sax man Steve Mackay, with the mighty Mike Watt filling in for deceased bassist Dave Alexander (amazingly, the only casualty of this self-destructive group), and according to a review out of Italy, Ig’s still falling down, still barking on his hands and knees, and still screaming his life’s philosophy, unchanged since the ‘60s: “Fuck Everything!!”
Why all this sudden focus on a guy who never could sell records (though the fuss does seem to happen once or twice a decade, and Iggy’s halfway through his fifth decade in the business)? A guy who rarely plays an instrument, is a terrible singer with about a quarter of an octave range, virtually unknown to most music consumers and nothing more than a cult figure to a core of fanatics (who at this moment are complaining there still really, really needs to be a good, big, big boxed set to do justice to his Olympian status)? A guy who trashed his career too many times to count through drugs and alcohol and terrible artistic choices? A 58-year-old snotty punk who has never grown up?
Well, even though I knew the answer, wading into 38 Iggy cuts gave me pause. Yes, I know, godfather of punk, and metal, and garage (uh, please – go talk to Sky Saxon, who makes Iggy look like Mozart and had already cemented his place in R&R history and disbanded the Seeds before the Stooges released their first album). And without him we’d never have had the Ramones, or Nirvana, or Billy Idol (hmm …). And most people who mark the birth of punk with “God Save the Queen” don’t know that Malcolm MacLaren studied Mr. Pop like a textbook before launching the Sex Pistols. So granted, his influence is enormous, but isn’t that all spit and swagger, and do I really have to listen to Thirty Eight?
It’s a very good thing they decided to track these songs in chronological order, not so much because you trace a progression but just the opposite, you realize a most impressive consistency, of inspired and inspiring rock and roll, through a surprising array of sonic and career direction choices. Always a little skeptical of the rarified status conferred upon trailer park grad James Newell Osterberg (he took Iggy from his first band, the Iguanas), I figured 38 cuts were enough to settle some questions. Sure, it’s only about one song per year of his recording career, and shouldn’t any pro be able to manage that? Well, not really, I can think of many who haven’t. So there had to be a lot of dreck, I figured. I was wrong.
Iggy Pop has been around for so long, touring only sporadically and rarely on the radio, and has put out so many dismissible albums with so many bad songs, unless you’re a hardcore fan you stopped listening to all of it years ago. Maybe decades ago!
But this collection proves Mr. Stooge has had perhaps the most remarkable career in rock and roll history. The influence question is unassailable. From Steven Tyler to Scott Weiland to – forget it, too many singers, too many bands to name. Not just Iggy as quintessential rock and roll front man, Iggy Pop as poet, tunesmith, producer, lyricist, social barometer, arranger, bandleader, as the guy who says this is how it’s going to sound, and look, and this is the message delivered.
That’s a lot of roles to take on, and to perform each with the highest integrity, to your own bizarrely unique standards, and to have the rock community agree almost to a man that yup, that’s it, that’s rock and roll, that’s the way it should be done. And not just for your time on top, a few years, a decade, even. Listen to the last, most recent cuts on this collection. Iggy’s still got it. He still knows when to bring in a searing guitar part, a howling synth, an audible sneer, a sharp insight on human nature, a teenage rebellious challenge, a societal mockery. He’s still pissed, still horny, still bored. Iggy Pop, throughout his long, long career, and right up to this very day, simply embodies rock and roll at its hormone-fueled anarchistic essence. At 58. (And still has a six-pack I’d have given anything for at 20.) Take that, Mick and Keith and your tour sponsored by Ameriquest (that’s a mortgage company).
The first 10 songs are Stooges cuts (“1969” – Iggy laments turning 22), the last two are from 2003’s Skull Ring sessions, a reunion with his original Stoogemates brothers Ron and Scott Asheton (and also included collaborations with fans Green Day, Peaches and Sum 41), and it’s hard to tell the difference. As confirmed by his lack of chart success, there are no real “Jumping Jack Honky Tonk Women” sing-alongs here, yet as you listen to song after song after song that sounds vaguely familiar or remembered, you’re progressively impressed at how good it all is, and what essential rock and roll. You have to listen with focus to the structures, to the great musicians he chooses, to how he uses that funky voice of his, to the cowbell here and the screaming feedback there, to the biting, insightful, irreverent and often hysterically funny lyrics (“Candy” and “Well Did You Evah!” sound like bad jokes until you put them in context – they’re perfect, and perfectly Iggy, and he’s always been the jester but never the clown).
Even if you haven’t paid that much attention to ol’ Jim over the years, you’ve heard a lot of his songs, covered so many times by a wide range of artists. “China Girl,” “Real Wild Child,” “The Passenger,” “Lust for Life,” “Nightclubbing,” “Search and Destroy,” “Sister Midnight,” “No Fun,” “Fun Time” – these are great songs. But I’ll say it again, you do have to listen, to all 38, to what might on the surface sound like a bunch of not that distinguished punkish rock and roll. You have to dig a little, like for any buried treasure, but your reward is A Million in Prizes.
Two final notes: one of the great joys for me in revisiting Iggy Pop’s career on these discs was being reminded of the power of his words, and that earlier remark about his being “a terrible singer" was trying to make a point – more correctly, he has a terrible voice, but often is truly a great vocalist. Ask Mick. The right tool for the job.
Pretty much raw power. Not too polished, for the most part. Polish was what ruined a few albums in many fans’ opinions, and the Igster took it upon himself to remaster in ’97 the 1973 third Stooges LP (with three cuts represented here) to give it the full sonic force he originally intended. His friend and mentor David Bowie guided him in the direction of some memorable recordings, but he also slicked ‘em up a bit too much for some rockers’ tastes.
Because these CDs do span 36 years and an entire career, there are some that bolt from the norm and demonstrate the “range” Pop has decided to explore at times. Near the end you get the poetic spoken word musings in a modern minimalist setting laid down by Medeski, Martin and Wood in “I Felt the Luxury,” flipping in the next moment to the braying grind of Skull Ring’s “Mask,” more poetry but with pounding drums and cranking guitars, similar to the way the original Psychedelic Stooges sounded. Sometimes Iggy’s voice is way on top of the mix, other times buried in the chaos, but you can always understand the words, which have always been important to him.
For the most part the music here is played without nuance, crudely presented, mixed dirty, simplicity in the name of power. Works for me.