More fun?

What's so weird about the first Stooges album in three decades, The Weirdness?
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duncan@sfbg.com

"Have you heard this yet?" I asked the cashier at Green Apple Books and Music's annex, laying The Weirdness (Virgin) on the counter. The black cover with the ominous Stooges logo in reflective silver seemed somehow dangerous in and of itself.

"Yeah. It's all right," he answered. "It could've been worse."

"So it's no Fun House?"

"Not even. But it's not bad. It could've been really embarrassing."

So, how is The Weirdness — aside from not too embarrassing? It opens with a grunt from Iggy Pop and a squealing guitar that sounds like an overdriven, amplified harmonica. The track, "Trollin'," is, of course, about tooling for twat in a convertible, with lines such as "I see your hair as energy / My dick is turnin' into a tree." Not to throw salt in a brother's game, but with the Igg turning 60 at the Warfield show April 21, the boner jams might be a little inappropriate.

But when have the Stooges ever been appropriate? Pop's lyrics have always blurred the line between idiot and savant: we can all agree that "The Passenger" is some of the finest alienation poetry ever penned, but "It's 1969 OK / All across the USA / It's another year for me and you / Another year with nothin' to do" ain't exactly Shakespeare. The Weirdness includes Mike Watt on bass, who, despite his storied history with the Minutemen and Firehose, must be crapping his trousers every time he gets onstage with the band. Steve Mackay — the original sax player who brought unadulterated free-jazz death skronk mayhem to "LA Blues," the outro to Fun House (Elektra, 1970) — is heavily showcased, and the whole thing was recorded by Steve Albini, the obvious choice to put the album to tape with minimal hocus-pocus.

As a latter-day Iggy Pop slab, The Weirdness is pretty damned OK. I mean, 9 times out of 10, are you going to grab Naughty Little Doggy (Virgin, 1996) instead of Lust for Life (RCA, 1977)? But every so often, you get that wild hair up your ass, and since you're not expecting too much, you're pleasantly surprised. The Weirdness has its moments: it's got the anthemic "My Idea of Fun" ("is killing everyone!") and the shambling, rambling "Mexican Guy," a sort of twisted version of "Subterranean Homesick Blues." It's got Iggy as crooner on the title track and "Passing Cloud," both recalling the hugely underrated 1979 Arista disc New Values. It's got lusty shout-outs to black women ("The End of Christianity") and bum-outs ("Greedy, Awful People").

But is it a Stooges album? I know that for guys like Pop and brothers Ron and Scott "Rock Action" Asheton, on guitar and drums respectively, the idea of some college kid walking around campus cranking their music may be antithetical to a "Search and Destroy" ethos, but like it or not, punk — and its kinder, gentler offspring indie rock — broke on college radio and campuses. During my time in the institution, when I felt up to my eyeballs, I'd put Fun House on the headphones, walk over to the coffee cart, and just melt everyone like I had heat vision. Seven tracks, just under 37 minutes, both life affirming and a complete sonic death match. Linda Blair in The Exorcist has nothing on the scream — "Loooooord!" — Pop lets out at the beginning of "TV Eye," followed by one of the simplest and heaviest guitar riffs in history, played by Ron Asheton before he was moved to bass in favor of the more polished, less primal James Williamson.

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