Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die

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It’s all relative I suppose and you don’t need me to tell you that I like the new Stooges album because you can just go on youtube and listen to the whole thing for free.  But, hey, I just want to talk about the Stooges even though I very clearly said I wasn’t going to do that in my introduction essay thingy.  The Stooges are built into the DNA of my music taste.  If you don’t own The Stooges, Funhouse, Raw Power and the two to three albums worth of songs on unofficial releases like Open Up and Bleed, then you and I do not share the same world view and we should probably not run into each other on the street.

The Stooges brief career ended in 1974.  Several of Ig’s former band mates played on a few of his solo albums but it was made pretty clear a reunion wasn’t going to happen; especially after the insulting liner notes on the 1997 Raw Power CD reissue.  To quote – regarding the Asheton bros. – “those guys couldn’t organize a home aquarium without me.”  Ouch!  But somehow, in 2002, the Stooges were back!  Iggy was joined by Ron Asheton on guitar, Scott Asheton on drums, Minutmen/Firehouse bassist Mike Watt and even Steve McKaye on sax.  They did four songs for Iggy’s 2003 album Skull Ring.  Then they put out their poorly received “come back” album, The Weirdness in 2007.  Then, in 2009, Ron Asheton passed away.  Well, who else should take his spot than the guy who did so way back in 1972?  So, even though he hadn’t held a guitar in three decades, James Williamson rejoined and here we are, with a new Stooges album.  Only now it’s Iggy and the Stooges but, we know what’s up.

It’s good!  I  don’t think people were expecting to be blown away.  But I’m enjoying Ready to Die a lot more than I did The Weirdness (although, to be fair, I might have to just go back and listen to that one since it’s been six years).  First of all let’s make one thing clear.  Ron Asheton was the man!  His forceful, primitive guitar playing is the reason why punk rock exists.  But James Williamson is a stronger player.  That means a world of difference in 2013.  The Weirdness is full of basic, not too interesting garage rock riffs and we need some new tricks to tides us over!  I’m not saying this new album is particularly original.  All I’m saying is that Williamson just plays better melodies and more creative riffs.

It’s a garagey/punky hard rock album!  They aren’t breaking new ground and don’t try to.  Instead it’s just rock ‘n’ roll.  Um, lessee… I wouldn’t call the album particularly diverse but there a few different things going on here.  Williamson plays Stonesy melodies but, just like on Raw Power, his tone and approach are meaner and dirtier than Richards.  But this, in no way, has the same anger, fire and vitriol of Raw Power so don’t think it does just because I made a comparison to it.  I bitched on facebook about how I want the “I’m a streetwalkin’ cheetah with a heart full of NAPALM!!!” Iggy not this modern, crooning Iggy.  But, how can I demand such a thing from a 67 year old man?  The album scores on the fact that they know what they’re good at yet don’t make active efforts to copy the past.

Most of these songs are energetic rockers in which Iggy does what Iggy does; he makes no bones about his love for “those double Ds” – which is funny because I always pictured Iggy as an ass man who loves huge amazons but whatever – talks about having a shitty job and being sick of it and a bunch of other hilariously blunt admissions.  But the rockin’ tone is broken up with a trio of bittersweet, acoustic numbers – the strongest being album closer “The Departed”, which aside from incorporating the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” riff on acoustic guitar is just a really beautiful song about their dead friend.

Some of the songs also have sax and piano on them so that adds some dimension.  I’m sorry if this review isn’t the most in depth thing but I really don’t know what else to say about the album.  It has ten songs in 35 minutes.  Some of the song names are “Sex & Money”, “Dirty Deal”, “Unfriendly World” and “Gun”, so you know, they try to keep things grounded but not get TOO negative.  After all, they’re old and lived long lives and have had plenty of time to be angry at the world.  I dunno, whatever, it’s good.

 

I Eat Your Skin (1964)

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I am pretty sick of zombie movies but that’s because the only ones anyone ever makes are the stereotypical ones with hordes of flesh eating, walking dead who infect others by biting them and can be killed by a blow to the head.  But I wonder why it’s been such a long time since anybody has ever explored the classic voodoo zombies of the pre-Night of the Living Dead era?

Before Night of the Living Dead came out zombies were controlled by a voodoo master or some other similar force and just did the master’s bidding.  They pretty much acted like brain dead henchmen who would just as easily chop someone up with a machete as carry a bale of hay.  This topic fascinates me yet everyone just wants to watch crap like The Walking Dead.  And don’t tell me to see it.  I don’t have very much interest.  I saw the pilot and thought it was pretty standard stuff.  Maybe I’ll read the comic since I hear that’s all right.

Now then, one thing that boggled my mind about I Eat Your Skin is that there was no skin being eaten.  I suppose you could argue that the formula the doctor used ate people’s skin away but that’s a pretty ambitious reference to the title, I think.  More than likely it just sounded cool, especially on a double feature with I Drink Your Blood, which I have yet to see.

I Eat Your Skin is not a perfect movie but had enough of what I wanted to see that it worked for me.  The plot involves a womanizing writer named Tom Harris who is played by William Joyce who reminds me of a poor man’s Robert Ryan.  He, his publisher and his publisher’s wife take a sojourn to the Central American island called… Voodoo Island in hopes of inspiring Harris by surrounding him with voodoo culture.  The only thing Harris does is chase after Coral Fairchild (Betty Hyatt Linton) the daughter of the scientist Duncan Faichild (Dan Stapleton).  His conquests are then, often interrupted by the strange looking, bug-eyed, corpse like zombies, who attack people at random.

The acting is all hammy and hack.  The dialog is dubbed, making characters sound as if they are providing voice overs when they are actually just speaking.  There are attempts at comic relief which are horrible; often involving the publisher’s busty (their words, not mine!) wife who is incredibly annoying!  And the dialog is awful; unfunny one liners, corny fake insults, cheesy come-ons, etc.  Yet, I enjoyed it!  Writer/producer/director Del Tenney (known for such classics as The Curse of the Living Corpse and The Horror of Party Beach) does his best to entertain on a miniscule budget.  The movie is surprisingly violent for something that came out in 1964.  It’s not H.G. Lewis violent, mind you.  But there is a decapitation by machete, stabbings of various kinds, a torch to the face and slowly rotting skin.  But probably the best and most original event was when a zombie holding a box of explosives walks directly into the propeller of a helicopter causing it to explode.

Also the set pieces were neat looking.  I love this voodoo stuff so to me, temples with various masks and tropical jungle environments are all a plus.  I was disappointed that movie was in black and white.  Typically I don’t care about that however the movie should have been in color since it takes place in a tropical environment.  I really wanted to see the lush green of the trees and the multicolor masks and costumes that the natives used during the extensive voodoo ceremonies.  Oh well.  I also have issue with how the cheap, Alpha Video DVD release I watched it on, was formatted to the 1:33 ratio as opposed to being in widescreen.  It actually cut off parts of the credits.  Now how hard is it to release something in its correct aspect ratio even if you are a budget DVD company?

The Melvins – Everybody Loves Sausages

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Cover albums are usually a terrible idea.  Bands might have a blast jamming their favorite songs but they should do the listener a favor and keep it strictly in the rehearsal room.  That is, of course, unless you’re the Melvins and actually do something unique with other artists’ creations.  It should come as no surprise even to the casual listener that the Melvins wouldn’t go the standard route and just do faithful renditions of songs everybody has already heard a whole bunch of times.

Furthermore the cast of characters involved with Everybody Loves Sausages should make people froth at the mouth and rush out to get the record – or at least listen to a free download.  Also the idea of a covers/collaborations album isn’t exactly new to the Melvins.  In 2000 the group did a similar project called The Crybaby.  And furthermore, even though Everybody Loves Sausages is considered an official Melvins release, it’s a pretty mix and match affair.  Aside from the aforementioned guest appearances, various songs feature different permutations of the group; both the duel drum version with Jared Warren and Cody Willis and the Melvins Lite version with Trevor Dunn on standup bass appear on the record at various points.  The only member who plays on all thirteen songs is Buzz Osbourne.  His “cover” of “Heathen Earth” by Throbbing Gristle is actually a solo piece he made up himself in which he plays all of the bleep-bloop noise machines and which actually isn’t a cover of “Heathen Earth” at all since the song “Heathen Earth”, as thought to be a Throbbing Gristle song, doesn’t exist and is actually Heathn Earth, an album.

Going into the record I was already familiar with nine of these thirteen songs.  Of the one’s I hadn’t heard, “Set It on Fire” is by Australian garage/punk band the Scientists.  Mark Arm’s lead vocals makes the song sound like Mudhoney, which is fine by me!  “Art School” by the Jam is done Oi! style with Tom Hazelmeyer of Halo Of Flies and AmRep fame joining Osbourne on a hilarious shouting match of “Oi, Oi!” while the two sing in thick British accents.  It sounds like standard punk fair but no worse for it.  It’s the other two that bug the shit out of me!  When I checked discogs for “Timothy Leary Lives” by Pop-O-Pies and “Romance” by Tales Of Terror, both are from long out of print albums, which fetch incredibly high prices and that sucks because both songs are good!  When Osbourne calls the Tales Of Terror record one of the best he’s ever heard by anybody ever, he might as well wave his dick in my face and say, “ha ha, you can’t touch this!”

As far as the rest of it goes, it’s going to be difficult to describe the record without describing each song individually.  I know this is a terrible way to write a review so please bare with me!  The album’s “WTF?!” tone is immediately established at the beginning of the album.  After Scott Kelly of Neurosis makes you want to drink Coor’s and smash beer cans against your head all day to the tune of “Warhead” by Venom, the Melvins do a faithful, sincere rendition of “My Best Friend” by Queen!  According to the liner notes, it’s supposed to make you go, “huh?” but I can just as easily assume it was Buzz’s and Dale’s honest admission of love for each other.  Who knows?  Then the album gets kinda shitty because they do “Black Betty”, a song I’ve always loathed with all my being!  I just can’t stand that “black betty bam balam” refrain!  Thankfully the Melvins make it halfway listenable by playing the coda Motorhead style.

Elsewhere we get “Attitude” by the Kinks which RULES!  It’s probably my favorite performance on here.  They don’t change it too much but you know how in the original the chorus slows down and only gets fast in the last refrain?  Well, in this version, it’s fast and punky the whole time!  So, it never stops kicking your ass!  It’s awesome!  “Female Trouble” is a neat little treat with Dunn’s standup bass and Osbourne singing “they say I’m a skank but I don’t care/go ahead and put me in your electric chair”!  “Carpe Diem” by the Fugs isn’t altered too much other than briefly heavying up the song during the “you can’t out think the angel of death” refrain.  Otherwise the band maintain the gorgeous melody of the original, making it my second favorite performance on the album.

And that leaves us with the two longest songs on the album.  Don’t get me wrong; I like “Station to Station” by Bowie and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” by Roxy Music.  And the band do fine versions of them; the former is turned into a heavy, sludge thing before the funky part kicks in.  I wish J.G. “Clint Ruin Feotus” Thirlwell sang in his old sleazy style, not his new, high pitch, melodic style but oh well.  And, in the latter, Jello Biafra, with his unmistakable vibrato, helps maintain the original’s creepy vibe when telling the tale of a man’s love affair with a blowup doll.  The only problem is that, since most of the songs are relatively short, placing an 11 minute song and a 9 minute song at track five and track ten respectively tend to slow up the album’s otherwise brisk pace.

Someone might want me to mention that Blondie drummer Clem Burke, former Melvins and Cows bassist Kevin Rutmanis, Tweak Bird guitarist/singer Caleb Benjamin and longtime Melvins producer Toshi Kasai also appear on the album.  They do.

Mudhoney – Vanishing Point

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I know I’m late to the party on this one since the latest Mudhoney album Vanishing Point has already been out for two months.  But I guess I just wanted to rant about how good the new album is.  I listened to it on repeat on my two hour car ride back from Grand Rapids and I must say it’s their best album in fifteen years (not counting their absolutely fantastic best of/rarities double disc set March to Fuzz).  Now that is actually saying something.  I gotta confess that I’m a fan.  In Our Band Could Be Your Life writer Michael Azerrad claims that Mudhoney topped out early in their career with “Touch Me, I’m Sick” and henceforth just did the same thing over and over just not as good as the first time.

Well, he’s got that almost correct.  Add Mudhoney to the Motorhead/Ramones/AC/DC camp; bands who know one or two tricks but do them so well, they should never, ever think outside the box.  It’s a good box after all.  My friend told me that Vanishing Point sounds like it could  have been released 20 years ago.  Great!  I’m one of the few who thinks they never sucked during the 90s.  However after their breakup/reunion with Guy Maddison in place of original bassist Matt Lukin, I don’t know… I just didn’t like those albums as much.  Maybe I just felt that Since We’ve Become Translucent, Under a Billion Suns and The Lucky Ones were just generic garage rock albums.

But they’re back in fine form!  Little Marky Arm and Steve Turner blast out one great Stooges/Blue Cheer/MC5 riff after another across the album’s ten songs and 34 minute running time.  There is some great guitar interplay and Arm’s lyrics are as spot on and clever as ever.  Arm compares GG Allin to Long John Silver and drops references to Foreigner and Devo songs.  And when the lyrics aren’t clever, they are deliberately stupid and thus very funny.  Probably the best example I can give for this is “What to Do with the Neutral” which contains the lines “embrace the positive/reject the negative/what about the neutral which is neither here nor there/what to do with the neutral is not an easy problem/problem to solve/I will say no to nothing/and yes to something/but I have no idea what that something should be.”  What does that even mean?

But, like usual, Mudhoney tamper their signature style with slightly different approaches and fun little inside jokes for rock fans.  Oh!  And “Chardonnay” is a raging, uptempo punk song!  It sounds like the New Bomb Turks!  Aforementioned “What to Do with the Neutral” seems to be a vocal homage to Iggy – and I mean the solo, singing Iggy not the “I’m a streetwalkin’ cheetah” Iggy.  And I can’t say for sure but on the intro to “I Don’t Remember You”, it seems as though the group “borrowed” the “Under My Wheels” intro.

But it’s those inside references that make me want to shout it out loud and proclaim to the bros in the car next to mine when I tool around this boring Detroit suburb, “fuck you, assholes!  I listen to ROCK, baby!”  And that’s what this and all of Mudhoney’s albums are!  They’re rock!  Not  punk, grunge or “alternative” (a term which seems to all but died save for those who are completely out of touch)!  I don’t know how to say it without getting redundant!  No new ground is broken, just ten wonderful, catchy as all hell fuzzed out rock tunes!  They’re loud and Mark Arm belts out the lyrics with the same glee and whimsy as when he first shouted “I’m a jerk/I’m a creep!” 25 years ago.  Only now it’s “I’ve got big enough balls/ to admit I like it small”!

Oh okay, I will also mention “Sing This Song of Joy”, a mellower, more somber tune which evokes a similar mood as earlier songs like “Endless Yesterday” from aforementioned Under a Billion Suns, “Thirteenth Floor Opening” from Piece of Cake and “Broken Hands” from Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.  So there you go; different tones.  However the majority of the album is a rollicking, gnarly good time!  And really isn’t that what we all live for?