Considering all the vitriol and censure that has been inspired by rock music from its very beginnings when Elvis asked if it was alright, mama, there are really very few rock records that can be considered truly toxic.
Elvis has been so assimilated that it takes a spin of his Sun Records recordings to remind you of how intensely powerfully he could rock, as well as reminding you as well as anything how a burning, brilliant star can be dulled and quenched by commerce.
But throughout the history of the form, a few rock artists have ducked expectations and produced music that is simply out of time and place. One such recording is Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power.
I bought this record when it first came out, all the way back in 1974. I’m glad I did, because that record has essentially ceased to exist. There is a CD, but this is a remixed version. A very worthwhile version, to be sure, and definitely worth having, but it is not the same.
The remix, by Iggy Pop himself, is entirely understandable. The original sound of the record is incredibly monochromatic. Guitars and vocals are merged into each other. The rhythm section churns underneath like a quicksand. It could have been recorded directly from a cheap transistor radio.
Nonetheless, this compressed sludge of a sound is perhaps the greatest hard rock/heavy metal you are ever going to hear.
The Stooges are (rightfully) touted as the first true punk band, in the 1970s meaning of the term, and everything you hear in punk music from that date onward has its roots in that sound. All the masterpieces made by The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks or The Ramones are unthinkable without The Stooges, and Raw Power is surpassed by no one.
Whichever recording you hear, you are going to be pinned against the wall by the first cut, Search and Destroy, and you won’t slide down to the floor until the final, the most appropriately named Death Trip.
Not a long time to hang suspended for sure, about 30 minutes, but you might not be quite be the same ever again.
Raw Power was made by a band in the throes of dissolution, with nothing to lose and nothing to spend. The extraordinary dense mix is attributed to the use of an ultra-cheap, practically lo-fi, recording studio. David Bowie attempted to apply to 1970s-style clarity to the original recording and failed spectacularly. Iggy Pop simply cranked all the meters into the red for the remix and let the sludge bleed through unadorned.
Raw Power is in no sense a pretty record, despite a peerless heavy metal ballad in Gimme Danger, and it is best listened to when you are in a really foul mood. For however bad you might feel, you are not going to match Pop for sheer piss. When a song such as Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell is one of the lighter tunes, you know you are in deep. Deep as a song such as the highly ambivalent Penetration will take you.
It’s a great ride.