I'm extremely happy to see "Raw Power" digitally enhanced and preserved for future generations. Not only is the album one of the Stooges' preeminent efforts, but it is such a remarkable time capsule of its time. "Raw Power" is a glimpse into a very specific period of music and American culture. While the free-wheeling love and experimental music of the 1960's had passed, and the titans of British classic rock had successfully invaded, there was left in the gap a section of American fans and musicians who had become jaded with "free love" but embraced "free music." Within that framework, Iggy and the Stooges pseudo-sexual hedonism were allowed to take shape and blossom. From the heart of blue-collar industrial America, and alongside fellow Michiganders MC5, The Stooges dared to be punk before there was such a thing. They were alternative before the term even existed.
But don’t just take my word for it. Turning to a man of higher punk authority than me, I enlisted for this review the opinion of Stooges aficionado and amateur punk rock historian, my friend in music Greg:
Raw Power began as a divisive album, and for as long as people still talk about rock albums it will probably stay that way. Recorded in 1973, it featured a re-constituted version of The Stooges with new guitarist James Williamson and original guitarist Ron Asheton demoted to playing bass. The songs were shorter, crisper, and more direct than on their previous work, but this power was diluted somewhat by David Bowie’s rushed re-mixing of the album to correct “errors” in vocalist Iggy Pop’s original mix (long story). In the late 90’s an “Iggy Pop” mix of the album was released, but this was also criticized in some circles as being too distorted – Pop intentionally pushed audio levels to the red across the board, resulting in an album that was more blaring than rockin’.
The recently-released Legacy addition to Raw Power aims to correct this mess by going back to the original 1973 soundboard recordings and re-mastering them for CD. Does it work? Kind of. I hate to be all waffly and “some good things, some bad things” about this, but well, some songs are better served by this most recent and balanced mix, and some songs are best served by Iggy’s “I can do it!” mix. On balance though, I prefer this new edition. The Stooges are all about noise, sure, but what makes this album work so well are the songs, the balance between the broken-glass guitars of “Search And Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” and the brooding malice of “Gimme Danger” and “I Need Somebody.” Pop sells his own vocals short on his mix as well. His wails and yelps come through in either form, but the Legacy edition does a better job of capturing Pop The Scary-Yet-Affecting Crooner – a style that would serve him well in his solo career. In any case, you can always check out Fun House for weird-ass noise freakouts.
Bottom-line – Regardless of it historical yada-yada, should I get this album? Does it still hold up? Hell Yes! Aside from the greatness of the songs themselves, one of the best things about Raw Power is how it’s at this junction of all these musical trends. You can hear good-time 50’s rock n’ roll in many of the tempos (“Shake Appeal”, again) – but they’ve been twisted. You can hear vague 60’s cultural references (The line “Heart full of napalm” always makes me think of Vietnam) – but the flower-power bullshit is all gone. 70’s hard rock in the solos, Punk in the trebly rhythm guitar work and in Pop’s uncaged vocal style, it’s all there. To be honest with the readers of this blog, there may not be very many traditional Metal strains here (M. Drew would understand this connection better than I would) but if you have any interest in Punk of Hard Rock, you gotta check this out. You’ll find something you like.
There has long been concern among band members and fans alike that "Raw Power"'s Bowie mix is too weak, and that's a valid point. While the airy, vocal-centric performs wonders for the haunting "Gimme Danger," it undermines some of the explosive power of "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell." In interviews, Iggy has professed that he sometimes became frustrated with Bowie's infatuation with ideas or themes that the Stooges, as "the greatest rock and roll band in the world" just weren't interested in.
The live disc attached to the new enhanced "Raw Power" is a blissfully analog-fuzzy recording from a show at "Georgia Peaches," which I can only imagine as one of those dirty, discerning alcohol soaked clubs where edgy bands like the Stooges made their name. There is a woman somewhere in the club who stands a little too close to the recording microphones who tells a friend "he expends so much energy," referring to Iggy Pop's gyrating, wildly gesticulating live performance. The recording manages to capture Iggy in perfect frame, as he tells a heckler "you want to get your f*cking face punched in, little cracker boy?"
The performance at "Georgia Peaches" is raw and unedited, both in content and in style. Pop can be heard singing with passion, making the occasional rambling speech, and swearing at various sound technicians. It is a solid capsule of an experience that likely can't be replicated from musicians that were far ahead of their time.
It's also interesting to hear how the songs change when performed live. "Search and Destroy" is suddenly imbued with a piano line that gives the song a unique jangling hook. Throughout, little changes are made here and there which make the live tracks just different enough from their recorded counterparts.
"Raw Power" despite its slight lack of power in the Bowie mix, is an important album in American modern musical history, and I'm glad to see it treated as such. If you want to relive the old or be introduced for a first time, this new enhanced release is a solid window to look through.