The Stooges roll a seven
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Dec. 17, 2010
On paper, it reads like a Guantánamo Bay interrogation technique. Rhino Handmade's 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions offers 26 consecutive takes of "Loose" in the order in which the Stooges recorded them at L.A.'s Elektra Sounds Recorders in May 1970, from the top every time, false starts and studio banter included. The episode lasts more than 80 minutes. Even Iggy Pop tires momentarily.
"Take 107," he cracks after the 21st attempt. "Let's just put out a single and not an album. Just a single of this. We'll work on it all month."
"How 'bout an album with 22 takes of 'I'm Loose'?" counters engineer Brian Ross-Myring, referring to the song by its original title. He got the last laugh.
1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions reproduces the entire recorded history of the Stooges' landmark second album, the last to feature the original lineup of Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton, his brother/drummer Scott Asheton, and late bassist Dave Alexander, who was fired in August of that same year. The box set expands the original 36 minutes of primal idiocy into a nearly eight-hour-long modern marvel, sequencing the 12 used tape reels across six CDs. A seventh slip-disc replicates the radio single "Down on the Street" b/w "I Feel Alright (1970)," right down to the overdubbed organ on the a-side, unofficially credited to producer and former Kingsmen Don Gallucci.
The overall effect's akin to hitting a hot streak in Vegas: It locks you into its own unshakeable rhythm, a proto-punk mantra repeating over and over and over again. Limited to 3,000 numbered copies upon its release in 1999, the boutique collection was recently reissued after being voted one of the best compilations ever assembled by Rhino Handmade, the highly collectable and Internet-only specialty division of Rhino Records.
Rumors persist that the Doors watched these sessions through the studio's two-way mirror. It makes sense. The Stooges' eponymous 1969 debut boasted serious credentials in the form of producer John Cale from the Velvet Underground, while Iggy's heathen antics were already thrusting into legend. That the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based outfit added tenor saxophonist Steven Mackay to the fold in response to the Doors' "Touch Me" only bolsters the claim.
Suffice it to say, The Complete Fun House Sessions offers the next best thing to Peeping Tom with Jim Morrison, a brutally detailed look into the chaos and creation of a true masterpiece. The concept's normally reserved for jazz titans like Miles Davis, with the collections serving as understudies to the various players involved or examinations of the tape manipulation techniques of producer Teo Macero. From a historical perspective, this sort of audio voyeurism's fascinating, eavesdropping as tempos subtly shift and the lyrics, particularly for "Down on the Street" and "T.V. Eye," continue to evolve. According to the liner notes, the unfinished "Lost in the Future" was a surprise find to all parties involved, a completely forgotten blues dirge that would've made an excellent b-side.
Truly revelatory is just how long and forcefully the Stooges work at pinning down the band's kerosene vision – an instant boiling-point intensity is reached and, more importantly, maintained for the duration of the sessions. Iggy proves a Cirque du Soleil-level contortionist throughout. There's not a nook or cranny he doesn't attempt to squirm into vocally. In the fifth take of "1970," he actually starts growling, practically foaming at the mouth as Ron Asheton and Mackay violently spur each other to the near six-minute peak.
Each installment boasts a slightly different feel. The first disc works out most of the kinks, serving as a near-complete rough draft of the album to come. The inexplicable "Loose" marathon dominates the second and third discs. The fourth CD cues the ultimate Saturday night rock album, the dynamite lust and masculine adrenaline of "T.V. Eye" on repeat 14 incendiary times before the band launches into the shake appeal of "1970."
The entire set peaks with the second and third takes of "Fun House" from disc No. 5, a nuclear detonation of primordial punk-fury, abrasive R&B, and voltaic jazz that not even the Prince of Darkness could summon. Like so much on The Complete Fun House Sessions, both pose two equally difficult questions: "Why was another take even necessary?" and "How the hell did this cut not make it onto the original album?"
Disc six concludes with a downward spiral, presenting 10 of 12 total takes of grunge precursor "Dirt" that empty into the confrontational noise vacuum of "Freak," an 18-minute maelstrom of free jazz and feral frustration that was edited into the album's final 4:55 send-off, "L.A. Blues." Think of it as a 6-foot crawl into the grave.
The Stooges nail "Dirt" right out of the box, a harrowing account of addiction and desperation woven into European noir and American blues. Iggy performs each take with scarring intensity, transforming into a loner taunting death's approach. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to determine which selection was ultimately pressed to vinyl – Alexander's skulking bass and Scott Asheton's wobbly rhythms cast each murky scene – but only in the last take does a second guitar enter near the five-minute mark. Its hypnotic repetition lends an eerie otherness to the procession.
That's when it finally reaches perfection.