Like a Frankenstein’s monster with almost all its limbs intact, 2007’s The Weirdness—The Stooges’ first album since 1973’s Raw Power—staggered around with only a dim memory of the band’s former life. More of that memory has flooded back with Ready To Die. Billed this time around as Iggy And The Stooges, it’s only the second studio album to bear that name, Raw Power being the first. It’s a subtle switch, but an apt one. Founding guitarist Ron Asheton died in 2009, and that hole has been filled by James Williamson, who replaced Asheton on guitar for Raw Power. Complicated lineage aside, Ready To Die acknowledges not only The Stooges’ advanced age, but the desperation that once fueled the group’s best work.
Those days are gone, but Iggy Pop knows how to pickle them. “Sex And Money,” a slinky, handclap-propelled, female-backed blues-punk anthem, is smeared with saxophone courtesy of original reedman Steve Mackay. It sounds more like a throwback to The Stooges’ apocalyptically psychedelic 1970 album, Fun House—as does “Job,” which stomps and sneers in a winning approximation of that disc’s “TV Eye.” Self-pastiche is where Ready To Die shines. Seeing as how no one really wants to see Pop and crew innovate at this point in the game, tracks like “Gun”—a throwback to Williamson’s choppy, proto-punk guitar assault, “Search And Destroy”—are far more compelling. And when meat-and-potatoes ragers such as “Dirty Deal” and the rocket-like title track show up, it’s as if the years have melted away. Along with a few faces.
As with The Weirdness, current bassist (and Minutemen legend) Mike Watt solidly holds down the low end without a trace of his signature style, as if simultaneously in awe of and embarrassed by the heroes he now finds himself playing with. If only Pop was so reliable. On Ready To Die, his vocals can’t settle on an identity: shrieking hellion, degenerate crooner, or just someone who wandered into the studio off the street. That range once made for some spitfire performances, but now it’s executed with all the danger and potency of a chewable vitamin.
Ready To Die squanders much of its good will, though, with three acoustic songs that land with a damp splat. Not even the album’s hushed, drunken closer, “The Departed”—and its sly nod to the group’s 1969 classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog”—is fully able to break out of its own paper bag. The anchor that truly drags the disc down, though, is “DD’s.” At first, it’s a jabbing, upbeat tribute to Motown with some sloppy, distorted garage-rock slathered on top, an homage to the band’s Michigan roots. And then Pop starts singing, and the title’s meaning is made clear: “I’m on my knees for those double-Ds,” he leers without a trace of charm, menace, or anything else that might redeem those lyrics. “I’m so happy when I’m touching them.” Luckily there are enough high points on the album to mark it as a clear improvement over The Weirdness. With Ready To Die, Iggy And The Stooges have begun to spring back to life. Or at least shown signs of becoming convincingly zombified.