Don't Call It a Comeback

The Stooges succumb to The Weirdness

Rock band reunion fever has recently mutated from an enjoyable pop-culture phenomenon into a nostalgic cash-cow humpfest. Between Coachella's annual rites of resuscitation — this year's lineup includes Happy Mondays, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Crowded House, and Rage Against the Machine — to stadium-filling treks by the Police and smaller-scale alt-rock action from the Smashing Pumpkins, music enthusiasts may embrace many a bygone band anew.

While wrapping audiences in familiar tunes may put smiles on faces and sacks of loot in overseas bank accounts, the practice doesn't exactly prod artists to new heights. Tapping into endorphin-releasing memories, these groups are shooting fish in a barrel when doling out greatest hits to worshipful crowds. Of course, as a fan it's easy to be seduced by the siren's call of reliving past glories or experiencing music you never thought you'd get to hear live; a short list of my own indulgences includes shows by Judas Priest, Bauhaus, Os Mutantes, and the New York Dolls.

When the surviving members of the Stooges first reconvened in 2003 for Coachella, they could have coasted on their status as proto-punk pioneers. Instead, they exceeded their reputation for the cathartic onstage fury they'd established over 30 years earlier. Singer and iconic instigator Iggy Pop, the brothers Asheton — Ron on acid-drenched fuzz guitar, Scott providing pounding tribal mayhem — and punk bassist Mike Watt (filling in for the late Dave Alexander) laid waste to skeptics doubting the group's live corrosive brilliance.

Just Admit It: The new Stooges record sucks.
Just Admit It: The new Stooges record sucks.

The ecstatically received tours that followed gave Iggy and company a chance to reap their deserved critical accolades and belated financial rewards. But eventually the question that dogs any major reunion loomed: Would the Stooges tackle producing relevant new music after three decades of silence? No sane person could expect a modern Stooges effort to approach the band's early genius, but the feeble tunes found on The Weirdness leave one wondering why the group would soil its legacy with this Cleveland Steamer of an album.

"My Idea of Fun," the lone new song posted on the Stooges MySpace page prior to The Weirdness' late-March release, hinted at trouble; Iggy's vocals strained over an unremarkable Ron Asheton riff. Sadly, that guitar figure is one of the brighter spots on this dismal endeavor. Stripping away his trademark wah-wah attack, Asheton eschews the droning menace that marked the classic Stooges sound for a far more pedestrian approach. "ATM" and "I'm Fried" only hint at the chaotic squall he once regularly unleashed. Brother Scott fares better with his timekeeping skills, but the polished playing lacks the savage groove that propelled songs on The Stooges and Fun House.

Iggy's flailing contributions truly set The Weirdness careening off the rails, though. If the frequently off-key singing wasn't enough of a distraction, the barely there vocal melodies and insipid lyrics — "Greedy Awful People" is particularly egregious on both fronts — kills much of the material on arrival. Simply put, name-checking Dr. Phil in a chorus should be left to the likes of Good Charlotte. Given that Pop and the Ashetons regularly connect onstage, it's unfathomable that the Stooges wouldn't recognize how painfully uninspired most of The Weirdness sounds.

But despite all this — and the awful truth that these lesser songs will be performed instead of gems from Raw Power (Ron Asheton allegedly refuses to learn James Williamson's guitar parts after being demoted to bass for the album) — one fact remains. When it comes to experiencing history, no music fan in their right mind should skip a chance to see the Stooges play live. After all, reunion shows are perhaps the one time when it's just better to live in the past.

 
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