Raw Power. Has there ever been a more appropriately titled album?
Last week, Columbia Legacy released two different packages of the remastered original mix of Raw Power, an album of rarities and outtakes from the sessions, a well done DVD documentary titled The Making of Raw Power, and a surprisingly well recorded live performance from October 1973 in Atlanta titled Georgia Peaches.
One of the hardest things about being a Stooges fan has always been the struggle to decide once and for all which album is the best. But when it comes right down to it, Raw Power is the one — hands down. In fact, it's one of the greatest albums of all time. It's violent, dirty, and snarling, like a terrifying, viscous beast that clawed its way from the deepest bowels of some godforsaken gutter. Scrappy, yet devastatingly heavy in the spiritual sense, it's the Bhagavad Gita of punk rock. It's got it all. The vibe, the musicality, the balls, the brains, and the heart.
Raw Power is well-rounded, balanced, and fully realized. While it's as vile and muscular as a record could possibly ever be, it's extremely sophisticated, with classy playing, arrangements, and rhythms. More than anything else, it's got the quintessential element: the songs.
Every song on Raw Power is spot-on. James Williamson's guitar playing is simply beautiful, fast and furious and with a razor-sharp edge. It's his playing that sets the tone. He sets it up, and Iggy's inimitable vocals tear it down. Like a bizarro Buddha on a raging bull, the geniously heartfelt, subversive lyrics sit beautifully on the pounding riffs that get more and more brutal with each passing bar. The poison-tipped arrows of each and every stanza strike the bull's-eye of the plastic parade of society and the bullshit status quo, not because it can, but because it has to.
The drums pound away with pure conviction in ragged, honest beauty. The merciless bass growls away, underlining every measure of the treacherous sentimentality. Hungry and fearless, Raw Power never lets up.
The sheer power of the material ultimately shines through the raw murkiness of the original David Bowie mix, but much was lost in translation. Most of the bass and a lot of the drums are buried, which did not sit well with drummer Scott Asheton. Iggy has pointed out that the original mixes were rushed and done on subpar gear. Williamson, who originally did not see eye to eye with Bowie at all — particularly in the studio — has since recognized the artistry Bowie was going for in the sessions.
For better or worse, that's how Raw Power was originally presented to the world, and there's something very appropriate about it. The Stooges themselves were far from perfect. So what could be wrong with that reflection in the production?
The Making of Raw Power is pure gold. The content, filming, direction, and editing is perfect. It's inspiring to watch Iggy sit behind the board and hear him wax philosophically and explain how the songs came about as the tracks are isolated to unveil the magical brilliance of the timeless masterpiece. The heaviest moment is at the very end when Iggy gets choked up as he expresses the joy he gets from witnessing his audience respond to the songs he wrote 37 years ago. It's touching for us to see the godfather of punk moved by his long overdue comeuppance — a very rare moment indeed.
Replete with new, solid songs, Georgia Peaches finds the Stooges alive and fearless as usual. Because of the sensationalism that has always surrounded the band, people tend to forget just how great a live band they were. Peaches reminds you just how tight and "on" they really were live. Iggy's in top form, singing his ass off and hilariously berating the crowd and crew. The high points are Ron Asheton's incredible bass playing and Iggy's impromptu poem "Ten Georgia Peaches."
"Raw Power gotta healin' hand, raw power can destroy a man," proclaims Iggy in the title track of the seminal album. Ironically, it was Raw Power that destroyed the band. And nearly 40 years later, it's also what brought them back to life. "Can anybody hear me?" Iggy asks the small, oblivious crowd in Atlanta in 1973. "I don't mean with your ears." The answer is finally, emphatically, unequivocally "Yes."