Despite its title, Iggy And The Stooges’ fifth studio album shows the band is still very much alive and kicking. Ready To Die does not have the ‘wow’ factor of the comeback which Iggy Pop’s erstwhile collaborator and friend David Bowie recently made with The Next Day. But it is much stronger than their previous disappointing album The Weirdness (2007), and at times even recalls their creative heyday in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
These sexagenarian garage rockers’ attempt to turn back the clock may ultimately be doomed to failure, but for the 35 minutes this album lasts they give it a damn good go. Ready To Die is a lean and mean animal, straining its leash to the limit under some impressively tight musicianship. Ron Asheton having died in 2009, James Williamson resumes recording duties as lead guitarist with The Stooges for first time since their seminal proto-punk album Raw Power 40 years ago, once more co-writing the songs with Pop, but producing this time too with stripped-down grittiness.
With his usual provocative flamboyance, Iggy is depicted on the album cover at the centre of a gun target, strutting while wearing a suicide bomber’s belt over his bare chest – and there are certainly plenty of explosive moments in the music. The opening track and first single Burn is nothing short of incendiary, with snarling vocals and screaming guitars – you can virtually feel the flames consuming the band as Iggy utters gnomically, “I’m on fire, with a reptile”.
Sex & Money is a down and dirty ditty, backed by rasping sax and punctuated by yelps of pleasure, as Iggy revels in hedonistic excess: “I wanna have fun all the time.” In contrast Job, packed with heavy, raunchy guitar riffs, sees Iggy yelling in his angriest mode: “I’ve got a job but it don’t mean shit / …and I’m sick of it.” The mood gets positively violent in Gun – “If I had a fucking gun / I could shoot at everyone” – as Williamson wields his guitar like a weapon.
Unfriendly World marks a complete change of tone, with Iggy crooning huskily almost like Leonard Cohen and Williamson playing delicate slide guitar, in a mellowish ballad. But the mood darkens again in the kick-ass title track, with a blistering guitar solo leading to a drop-dead ending. DD’s is a subverted Motown number, with a chirpy beat and staccato sax riffs, in a comic expression of lustful breast-fixation: “It doesn’t matter if you’re real or fake.”
Dirty Deal sounds like it’s going through the motions at the midpoint between rock’n’roll and punk in a cautionary tale of sleazy deception. A strange mixture, Beat That Guy is a mid-tempo song about male rivalry that lurches suddenly into a string-accompanied passage with female backing vocals. Closing track The Departed, however, is a moving, elegiac tribute to Ron Asheton, with its backward nod to the famous I Wanna Be Your Dog riff, weeping slide guitar and Iggy sombrely intoning: “Where is the life we started?”
On the evidence of Ready To Die, the rest of The Stooges are not only surviving but thriving, still making music that sounds urgent and demands attention. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket to see them perform at the Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre in June, the new material should not seem at all out of place amidst the classic stuff from the past.