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RECORD RACK

Iggy just not weird enough

March 04, 2007|Richard Cromelin;Greg Burk

The Stooges

"The Weirdness" (Virgin)

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THE first album since 1973 by the Stooges, one of rock's undisputedly essential bands, arrives without the sense of occasion that it might otherwise have, since the long-awaited reunion of singer Iggy Pop and bandmates Scott and Ron Asheton is old news: They recorded four songs for Iggy's 2003 album "Skull Ring," and have been around the reunion-tour block a few times (coming back again, to the Wiltern, on April 23).

The diminished anticipation might cushion the disappointment of this collection. While you wouldn't want these Stooges to simply remake, say, "Fun House," their 1970 masterwork of primal rock, it is fair to hope to hear the old chemistry, applied to some decent new songs that are faithful to the old spirit yet not tethered to the past.

That spirit -- of monolithic aggression, feral danger, alienation and rage -- wasn't part of rock's makeup until Iggy, guitarist Ron Asheton and his drummer-brother Scott emerged from Ann Arbor, Mich., primitive and proud, with an assaultive mix of blues and experimental psychedelia, delivered with confrontational theatricality by their emaciated frontman.

The Stooges turned their severe limitations of technique into an artistic signature, a crude, primordial simplicity that spelled identity and release for a small audience of disaffected, and despite the rejection by the mainstream, the Stooges' doctrine survived to resonate through garage, metal, punk, experimental and alternative rock.

Which means that they now don't sound very different from a lot of the music that's out there. On "The Weirdness" (due Tuesday), they sporadically catch that Stooges feel -- on the bashing opener "Trollin'," and the sax-stretched "She Took My Money." But overall the album sounds like another of the mixed-bag releases from Iggy's long-running solo career -- a career that's been sustained lately more by his enduring charisma on stage and his stature as a bold innovator and colorful survivor than by any great new records.

The music stings and slashes rather than bludgeons like a battering ram, and even with the esteemed Steve Albini producing and L.A.'s imposing Mike Watt playing bass (and original Stooges saxophonist Steve Mackay back on board), it doesn't have the kind of force and power that would show the kids how it should be done.

It's mostly basic, punk-leaning rock songs, and some artier excursions in the manner of Iggy's crooning, Bowie-produced late-'70s records. Links to the Stooges' improper, adolescent origins arise in the album's blunt approach to sex, and in Iggy's poking at racial sensitivity. "These bodies only come from way down South," he sings, appraising an attractive black woman. In the album's most ambitious and engaging song, the action is triggered by his girl running off with a "Mexican Guy."

That song's Dylanesque shower of words is the opposite of the old Stooges minimalism, so who knows? Maybe there's a future here as well as a past.

-- Richard Cromelin

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The trumpeter has a lot on his mind

Wynton Marsalis

"From the Plantation to the Penitentiary" (Blue Note)

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ON his 521st album, Wynton Marsalis lurks behind the desk in the vice principal's office, warming up a verbal hack paddle to spank politicians, capitalists and gangstas (while doing a spot of rapping himself). Lucky his trumpet and songwriting chops -- showcase by his talented brother Delfeayo Marsalis' clean production -- are primed discwide, because they speak louder than his words.

Marsalis made a canny choice of mouthpiece to soft-pedal lines such as "You modern-day minstrels with your songless tunes": singer Jennifer Sanon, at 21 already a three-year Wynton associate. She's especially effective on Marsalis' ingenious title track, 12 minutes of snaky horn harmonies (with saxist Walter Blanding), syncopated bass ostinatos (by Carlos Henriquez) and troublemaking group percussion rhythms; her easy, affectless voice adds a shivery note of sarcastic dissonance to already gnarly harmonies as she cat-moans about "the land of freedom -- in chains."

Similar tension attends accusatory lyrics on the lilting Brazil-pop tune "Find Me" (with its odd descending piano riff by Dan Nimmer), where Marsalis turns in one of many rough-grained, inventive solos. "Doin' Y(Our) Thing" takes off into hastening swing after a teasing soprano-sax riff that recalls Steve Lacy. The forced conjunction of scatty scramble and slow blues on "Supercapitalism" inspires a mini drum solo from Ali Jackson Jr.

And Marsalis' rap? On the shoulder-shaking New Orleans conclusion "Where Y'All At?," he comes off like your cranky neighbor, yelling that the party's too loud. Old-school, as always. But not half bad.

Greg Burk

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Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.

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