Graded on a Curve:
The Stooges,
Fun House

I suppose somebody had to do it. I suppose somebody had to go and make an album that isn’t an album, but a great sucking sound that slowly drags you through the filthy, rat-infested back alleys of rock’n’roll straight to the dark and dirty portal to Hell that is “L.A. Blues.” “The derangement of all the senses” was what the 19th Century French poet Arthur Rimbaud was seeking, and all I can say is it’s a pity he never got the chance to hear The Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” or the album it closes, 1970’s Fun House.

Because Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ best album isn’t just a slow descent into atonal skronk, it’s a road map to Hades. From its opening cut to its close it takes you down, down, down, into an abyss from which there’s no return. “Take it down!” howls Iggy, and he’s talking about everything, the whole damn world; the shrieks that follow demonstrate that once you’ve entered the fun house, everything collapses; the Stooges take you from the street into a maelstrom of sax-based (long live the late Steve MacKay) madness. Iggy’s words are unintelligible; he screeches and howls, and it’s too late to turn back now.

“L.A. Blues” isn’t a song; it’s a free jazz explosion, with enough electrical feedback to power the city it was named after. Jim Morrison loved the city of motel money murder madness, but not even “L.A. Woman” can compete with “L.A. Blues”; somebody once compared Hollywood to a tour of a sewer on a glass-bottomed boat, and on Fun House Iggy (aka James Osterberg) and his compadres (brothers Ron and Scott Asheton on guitar and drums, respectively, and Dave Alexander on bass) are the guys doing the rowing. This is it, right here and now, the sound of the apocalypse scorching you like a blowtorch through your headphones.

On chug-a-lug opener “Down on the Street” Iggy struts his stuff, “deep in the night, lost in love.” Ron Asheton’s guitar is pure insanity, the rhythm section pounds and pounds, and Iggy is in his element, looking to fuck or suck or score something he can put up his nose or shoot into a vein. The intensity leaps fourfold on follow-up “Loose,” on which Iggy shouts, “Look out!” before sticking it deep inside, and we’re not sure whether he’s talking about his cock or a needle full of junk. “Chow chow chow chow chow!!” he shrieks as Ron Asheton solos, and for pure sonic energy there may be no beating this song, by anybody, ever. “Cuz I’m LOOSE!” shouts Iggy, a panther in heat escaped from his cage, and no one, and I mean no one, is safe.

“T.V. Eye” is a throbbing mystery; “She’s got a T.V. eye on me,” Iggy keeps singing, but I have no idea what the fuck he’s talking about. What matters is his feral intensity, and the extremely scuzzy solo by Ron Asheton that bisects the song. Meanwhile Iggy makes noises, shrieks unintelligibly, and waits for the beat to return so he can tell us how much he loves the girl with the T.V. eyes. On the slow-burning “Dirt” he tells us just what he is, and how he doesn’t care; how he’s been hurt too, but he doesn’t care about that either. He sounds seductive one moment, defiant the next—“Do you feel it when you touch me?” he asks, referring to the conflagration that rages inside him, a human fireball in tight silver pants. Meanwhile Ron Asheton plays a solo so raw and scalding (I’ll bet there are guitarists out there who think he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and they may be right; but they still don’t know shit!) it sears your ears, as Iggy lays heavy emphasis on his pain; “I’ve been HURT!” he sings, over and over, dragging himself from the wreckage of his life, bloodied by broken glass and hooked on hard drugs and letting it all go, his body and soul and career and lifeblood, all gone down the drain.

“1970” opens on a Doors-like note and is a sequel to “1969” off the band’s first LP, and it spurts like blood from a severed jugular. “I feel alright!” Iggy keeps screaming, because it’s Saturday night and he’s out of his mind, and Ron Asheton is playing yet another solo that goes from A to B by way of feedback so reverberatory you can feel it in your spleen, that organ in the human body that exists solely to absorb the toxic shock of this LP.

As for the title track, Iggy howls, “Come on, Steve!” urging MacKay to kick it up a notch as this propulsive and primitive number steps up to punch you in the face. Iggy is calling from the fun house, and you have no choice but to pick up the phone because this is some cool jazz-rock shit that’s going down. “Little baby girl/Little baby boy,” sings Iggy, before screaming, “Every little baby knows just what I mean/Livin’ in division in a shiftin’ scene!” Meanwhile he howls, grunts, shouts, whoops, and goes “Oof!” because there are no rules in this fun house, and all the distorted mirrors have been shattered as he sings, “Do I dare to WHOOP you with my love?” Answer? He does, and he sure as hell does.

“Fun House” is the antechamber to the Hell—or is it Heaven?—that is “L.A. Blues,” about which I’ve already written. There’s nothing quite like it in rock; it’s not the blues, it’s chaotic wildcat music made by rabid animals hurling themselves against the bars of their cages, because they know they’re about to be put down. Iggy growls and howls like a man possessed, and the song isn’t music but a war zone, a fucking aural Vietnam.

There is perhaps no rock music as raw and vital as this. Cows come to mind; so does Jerry Lee Lewis. But they can’t beat it. Hell, even the Stooges’ couldn’t match it; their other two studio LPs are both great, but they don’t go off in your face like a Claymore the way Fun House does. It’s a barbaric yawp from the bottom, a trashcan crawling with rats, and to enter the fun house is to be savaged, ravaged, and to love it. There is no EXIT sign in this fun house, no shifting floor, just the sound of total commitment to the idea of utter self-immolation. Iggy is here to burn for you, like a monk in saffron robes dousing himself with gasoline. And this is not a rehearsal. This is the final flush of the toilet, love in agony, a caterwaul and a curse—the sound of a man cutting off his own arms solely for your entertainment.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A+

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  • blamblamman

    If this album isn’t an A+, I don’t know what is!

    • Michael Little

      Exactly, my friend!

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