Sunday, October 31, 2010

Iggy Pop and James Williamson's "Kill City"

Most reviews of this remastered reissue have focused on the differences 'tween it and the 'riginal, but  I'm slow on the pickup and I'll even admit it: I've never owned Kill City before. By the time it was originally released on Bomp in '77, I'd turned my back on the rawk for a few seasons to become a jazz snob and Monday night wrestling fan.

As life-changing as Funhouse (and seeing the '70 Stooges' epochal Cincinnati Pop Festival performance on TV) was for me, I was ambivalent about Raw Power (which I bought on the same day as I got Johnny Winter's Still Alive and Well and Beck, Bogert and Appice and liked more than the latter but not as much as the former) and totally lost the thread with Iggy's Bowie-produced RCA albums. Much, much later, I heard the demo version of "Consolation Prizes" on Total Energy's Motor City's Burnin' Vol. 2 comp, and learned "Johanna" for Stoogeaphilia via the saxless version on Bomp's Year of the Iguana. Even when I heard and liked Ig's Williamson-produced New Values in '79, I never got motivated to go back and check this one out. My loss.

Surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle would say: This is a great album. The lyrics are probably Iggy's smartest, from a time when he was still living the role, rather than just inhabiting a persona. (To get a sense of what I'm talking about, spin Kill City in between Funhouse and New Values.) While his Stooge lyrics tapped into the Zeitgeist in the simplest and most elemental way, songs like "Beyond the Law," "No Sense of Crime," and the title track ride the out-of-control locomotive to its inevitable conclusion -- self-abnegation and madness -- and describe the journey in devastating detail.

Musically, it's a step further in the professional, Stones-like direction that we heard Williamson leading the Stooges in on all of those rehearsal tapes and audience recordings. While the primal fury of the earlier, RON-centric Stooges is muted here, the more evolved songwriting lends the music a higher level of sophistication that's appropriate to the more complex emotional content. "I Got Nothin'" and "Johanna" realize the promise of the post-Raw Power Stooges; one hopes that the planned reunion recordings with Williamson will do the same for the rest of that lineup's canon. (I've heard live versions of "Open Up and Bleed" from their recent tours that sound definitive.)

The band, built around Williamson and ex-Stooge/future Tom Petty-and-Jackson Browne sideman Scott Thurston, sounds aggressive but also slick and pro in the same Roxy Music/Mott the Hoople manner as the current touring outfit, which might be what caused my sweetie to characterize this as "a glam album" on first listen. John Harden's sax is a lot closer to David Sanborn's astringent light jazz than Steve Mackay's Coltrane-via-JB's wildman honk, and the instrumentals sound like throwaways. Overall, though, this reinforces Williamson's stature as a songwriter, rather than just an axe-slinging madman, and confirms that James and Iggy had things to say worth hearing even after the world at large had stopped listening -- a situation which has now been rectified. Living well is always the best revenge.


Blogger Grubbermeister said...

It's not a bad album and is one of post-Stooges Iggy's best but (melodrama ahead) I lament how Williamson became a more tame, generic sounding guitarist by the time "Kill City" came into being. That being said, he seems to have captured back some of that reckless abandon and edge upon his return to the Stooge fold... which is definitely a good thing, in my opinion.

1:15 PM  
Blogger The Stash Dauber said...

I'm not a mindreader, but I'd guess that James toned it down for "Kill City" because while it was happening, it was intended as a demo to get Iggy a deal. Also interesting to hear him developing a slide style, which went on to bloom into a full-blown enthusiasm for Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Fast Film said...

You're one of the few to note the impotance of the nascent slide guitar stylings, currently germinating again for their live re-doing of "I Need Somebody."

And here's mine, with an aside to the visuals:

7:40 PM  

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