By Bill Adams
In the context of rock n’ roll, some albums are just inarguably timeless and of eternal value to listeners; they sound as good now as the day they were released, and pack the same emotional wallop no matter how much times may have changed. The list of such albums is not large, but is debated and quibbled over constantly – by turns, fans have questioned whether The White Album is of greater artistic value than Sgt. Pepper and Revolver, whether In Utero might have been a bigger deal than Nevermind, and the list goes on – but the one album that no one ever argues over is Raw Power by Iggy And The Stooges. The lore behind Raw Power‘s creation, recording and release is the stuff of magic and fantasy; sales were poor and the reception of the album was very, very mixed when the record first appeared in 1973, but eventually improved after punk broke through (musicians including the Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Kurt Cobain have all claimed that the record is essential listening at some point) and, to date, Raw Power has been remixed (including by Iggy Pop himself in 1997), remastered and reissued no less than six times in North America alone. It is a record that endures and consistently finds new, very receptive ears every time it hits new release racks at record stores.
After all the re-tooling and re-tailoring that has been applied to Raw Power in the thirty-seven years since the album’s first release however, someone had to take it back to basics for fear of it losing all its roots and just becoming another product and that’s exactly what Legacy has done with this two-disc set. They’ve gone back to basics as(while the album has been remastered once again) the original mix supplied by David Bowie is re-presented and, even over three decades later, it cuts through fresh and vital.
‘Raw Power’ is certainly the best way to characterize the sounds that bleed out of the album. The songs exude a pure, raw, sexual and drug-fuelled energy (Iggy’s substance abuse and impending star power are both beginning to show here, in the best possible ways) from the opening assault of “Search And Destroy” and the vibes only get thicker, sicker, more twisted and potent as the song progresses. While no one could have known it yet, the lyrics would ultimately be fundamental building blocks for punk as lines like “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” and “I am the world’s forgotten boy/the one who searches only to destroy” have been re-written one hundred different ways since, but have never seemed so poignant as they do here; it’s malicious and playful and, when you hear them, you feel them.
Amazingly, immediately following that first salvo, The Stooges switch tacks completely and adopt the visage of the pale-eyed stranger for “Gimme Danger.” Now, The Stooges are remembered as three-chord-toting dum dum boys but, on Raw Power, the band was still growing and maturing as songwriters before their break-up in 1974. The perfect foil to “Search And Destroy” (and reminder of that growth) can be found in “Gimme Danger” as, with acoustic guitars and a noticeably sullen, tired and defeated-sounding Iggy Pop on the mic, The Stooges present a very different portrait of themselves as apologetic, contemplative songwriters; it shows that there’s more than just mayhem in them.
With those poles set, the rest of the record tries to fill in and flesh out what is quickly appearing to become a more mature songwriting style. Songs like “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” (the theme from which Bowie would lift for “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” on Hours...), the title track and “Shake Appeal” all further refine The Stooges’ proto-punk sound and “Penetration” and “I Need Somebody” get a little more experimental by factoring a little pop and blues into the band’s equation. In each case, other bands would pick these sounds and structures up and run for miles with them, but it’s sort of cool to hear the starting points here come across as fairly solid to begin with; it’s easy to trace Jon Spencer Blues Explosion back to “I Need Somebody,” but interesting to hear that while JSBX is/was innovative on their own, they had a solid base from which to draw their initial inspiration.
As “Death Trip” closes Raw Power out and finally lets the whole thing fall apart, the result is both satisfying and cathartic. This reissue of Raw Power is satisfying because, unlike so many of the more “adventurous” re-workings of the material, this release stays true to the original; even leaving some of the noticeable flaws (like the clipping that might be from volume or from a little bit of tape left mangled in “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” intact) in place to imply the rough, warts-and-all initial recording process. In most any other context, such sounds would be regarded as a soft or lazy option, but they just suit here and give credence to the storied chaos that surrounded the band and the sessions that ultimately produced the record. This edition of Raw Power is not perfect and would be highly suspect if it was; in this case, the flaws help it feel real.
That aforementioned chaos is brought into dripping technicolor on the second disc included here. Recorded live at Richard in Atlanta, GA in October 1973, Georgia Peaches (the name often given to this set in previous partial releases) features The Stooges in rare form for the time; very aggressive but also very soulful (thanks in part, perhaps, to Scott Thurston’s Motown-on-PCP keyboards), the band is regularly in a stance that makes Iggy seem as though he could kiss members of the audience or kill them (it’s a little laughable when listeners hear catch a woman at the show say, “I don’t think he likes us very much.”) as they blaze through a set that consists largely of songs from Raw Power, but also a few rare gems like “Cock In My Pocket” that are certainly worth the price of admission and show that The Stooges were still a creative body even as they neared their end. Hissing and spitting to their last, The Stooges were known for going down swinging, and Georgia Peaches clinches it.
So is this reissue of Raw Power really all that much different form all the other versions released over the years? For my money, I’d say it is – not for any bells or whistles, but because the light clean-up done to the original production shows how good it was in the first place; with the use of just a bit of technology (look out honey), the Legacy Edition presents the original idea of Raw Power as well as the molten performance of it live clean and crisp. It could have been recorded yesterday – and if anything says a record is classic, that’s it.