Iggy and the Stooges, ‘Ready to Die’ – Album Review
Those without the surname Pop may do well to step aside after the age of 65 and let the young blood through. Iggy, however, keeps going. The 66-year-old Godfather of Punk is back with the Stooges for a new studio album, ‘Ready to Die,’ which may please the sector of fans simply looking for a familiar fix of the iconic group’s patented raw power.
Iggy has said that the Stooges as a whole died with founding member Ron Asheton in 2009 (Asheton’s last album was the Stooges’ ‘The Weirdness’ in 2007). But, he’s added, the band lives on in the form of “Iggy and the Stooges,” and on ‘Ready to Die,’ the current lineup appears more than ready to defend the group’s heady legacy.
Guitarist James Williamson is back, along with Scott Asheton on drums, the Minutemen’s Mike Watt on bass and Steve Mackay on saxophone, and it’s clear that the musicality and the mechanics of ‘Ready to Die’ are all safely in the hands of true professionals. They understand the drive that put the Stooges on the map in the first place, and they know with what they’ve been entrusted. There’s no mistaking the riffs and jangly, commanding guitars on ‘Ready to Die’ for anything but the stuff of a true Iggy album — and that’s as it should be.
But the above-board musicianship doesn’t quite make up for what’s lacking elsewhere. In his live performances, Iggy was, is and always will be the ultimate showman, something that’s evident throughout ‘Ready to Die.’ Iggy is in no better form than when he’s entertaining, and his vivacious presence is contagious. He’s a fireball in musical form, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Powerful musical and vocal showmanship are on full display throughout ‘Ready to Die’ — and it’s all almost enough to allow listeners to overlook the album’s relative unevenness. For all its bravado — and to its credit, the album has a ton of it — it feels like there’s something missing.
Although the band kicks things off with the defiant ‘Burn’ and ‘Sex & Money,’ they hint several times at what are lurking below the surface — musings on aging, death and regrets. On the reflective ‘Unfriendly World,’ Pop slows the album’s pace, summoning a Leonard Cohen-style delivery (“birthday cards from years ago / these will kill you slow”) and ruminating on the passage of time. And on closer “The Departed” (“in the light of day, everything’s a dirty deal,” “I can’t feel nothing real”), it’s clear that Iggy knows it’s been a wild ride that he’s lucky to still be taking. Both of these tracks are absorbing, but their inclusion alongside — and juxtaposition with — the other songs are a bit counfounding.
Lest listeners think Iggy’s taken a turn for the (gasp) introspective, the band veers into more familiar territory in ‘DDs,’ an ode to — what else? — Pop’s preference for, shall we say, big assets. “I’m on my knees for those double Ds,” Iggy asserts in a song whose lyrics sound like they might have been penned by a 14-year-old boy rather than by a punk veteran with actual songwriting chops. It’s all in good fun, sure, but you also know that he’s capable of being a better lyricist.
Another misstep is in ‘Job’ (“I got a job / but it don’t pay s—”); Iggy’s clearly speaking as an entitled character and not as himself, but the empathizing-with-the-proletariat shtick comes across as a little ham-fisted here.
Listeners simply looking for a few brand-new studio kicks from Iggy may find little to complain about here, but longtime fans — i.e., those who know how much more he’s capable of — may be a little disappointed. Though the basic recipe for success applies (take solid punk, add Iggy and stir), something falls a little flat in its execution. ‘Ready to Die’ seems poised on the edge of becoming something better, but isn’t quite ready to jump.