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The Stooges
The Stooges/Fun House

In the 35 years since Fun House, follow-up to The Stooges, was first released, The Stooges' reputation and influence have grown considerably, to the point where, in some circles, their monumental stature is a moot point. However, Iggy and cohorts remain very much a cult item when put in the context of the wider music world — there have been times, prior to the advent of the compact disc, when these albums were hard to come by, rarefied artifacts containing music that, though often cited as influential, was in fact seldom heard.

Well, here they come again, this time in much-improved remastered editions, each with a whole extra disc of bonus tracks. Importantly, this twin-disc format maintains the integrity of the originals, allowing them their own self-contained space, with no bonus tracks appended to spoil the flow or lessen the impact.

First up, the 1969 eponymous debut. Here you'll find a traceable lineage, with echoes of Brit-Invasion R&B and Nuggets-era fuzzball dynamism. But, crucially, The Stooges push at these limits with a crude but effective reduction of rock to its bare essentials: pounding Bo Diddley rhythms, buzzing guitar squall and nihilistic lyrics.

John Cale's production is basic but clear, accentuating the sneering confidence in Iggy's voice and the vicious edge to Ron Asheton's guitar-playing. It is, though, a little uneven-sounding: the momentum is almost fatally interrupted two tracks in, after a storming "1969" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog," with the 10-minute raga-drone of "We Will Fall" — tribal psychedelia that kind of fits the context but drags the momentum down to a sluggish pace. Fortunately the band recovers brilliantly with "No Fun" and "Real Cool Time," then coasts along through "Ann" and "Not Right" before finishing off with the savage, drilling groove of "Little Doll."

The second disc is a mixed bag. There are John Cale's original mixes of some tracks that were rejected at the time, and you can see why; the different musical elements sound uncomfortably isolated, and the percussion and voice are given too much prominence. "No Fun" is all vocals and handclaps, like some kind of flamenco version. On the plus side, "Ann" appears in its original, unedited form, stretching into a lengthy "Dance of Romance" coda that gives Ron Asheton ample space to cut loose on guitar.

The Stooges followed their debut a year later with Fun House, and I honestly can't stress how powerful this is — it's a flawless execution of ferocious energy that still sounds timeless today. With perhaps the greatest opening three-track salvo EVER, it kicks off with "Down on the Street," "Loose" and "TV Eye." Compared to their debut, the band sounds utterly uncompromising, merging into an unstoppable, elemental force. Ex-Kingsmen keyboardist Don Galucci seems to have taken an approach opposite to John Cale's, so that instead of the first album's tension between containment and expression, there's a sense of awe-inspiring force being unleashed, with The Stooges displaying a fierce, feral hunger that pushes things beyond any normal limitations save those of the album's actual running time.

"Dirt" takes things down a notch, with its ugly balladeering and Ron Asheton's brutal wah-wah taking a starring role, and then things accelerate again with the frenzied "1970" and the freeform angular funk of "Fun House." Both tracks feature saxophonist Steve Mackay, who broadens the band's sound without diluting it. Finally the album ends explosively with the apocalyptic "LA Blues," a prolonged, atonal howl that sees The Stooges staring adoringly into the abyss.

The accompanying disc of extras expertly fillets Rhino's mammoth Complete Fun House Sessions box to provide a digestible slice of a work-in-progress that manages to be illuminating without overly demystifying the finished album. Best are the two takes of "Fun House," running to nine and 11 minutes respectively, in which the band flirts with chaos while staying anchored to the music's punishing groove.

As Iggy himself puts it as he ushers in a gloriously primitive guitar solo on "No Fun": "C'mon Ron, lemme hear ya tell 'em how I feel." Listen to this pair of albums and consider yourself told.

by Tom Ridge

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