Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fun House (1970)

(Previous "Complete Sessions" review here, sufficient preamble.)

I was vaguely aware of the Stooges in high school, but my general understanding at the time, from hippie contemporaries, was that they were very bad and scary music that only demented people would be interested in. Already the legends of Iggy suffering injuries in performance were circulating. Naturally I accepted the solemn word of mouth. So I did not actually catch up to the Stooges proper until many years later, in the late '70s, backtracking from an infatuation with Iggy Pop caught in the reflection of David Bowie. At first I thought The Stooges was the better album of the two (with Raw Power crowding both hard) because the sound seemed simpler and more direct and because the year song ("1969" vs. "1970") was so much stronger and anthemic. Come to find out how wrong I was about this assessment during a crucial period in the early '80s.

To be clear, and to get right to the point, Fun House was an album—ultimately the album—for drinking. Try it yourself—or not. All disclaimers apply. It starts with "Down on the Street," which wastes no time in pounding with authority. How did I ever think the first album was the more direct? Indeed, the song is locked in ferociously, and immediately, over which the squalling vocals and squalling guitar of Iggy Stooge and Ron Asheton in tandem and alone get right to work, roaming like creatures at play. The guitar (filtered, fuzzed-up, wah-wah'd) is notably unearthly in its blend of feedback squeal, pealing notes, and noisy chords. It's a stone ball.

No time to waste, on to "Loose," and by now you should be. In other words, word to the wise, start your drinking early. You need to get a sense of the timing for this, and you will. Because you want to be right for "Loose," which occupies a territory that few other rock songs can. It surges and churns and drives, but Iggy is riding it on the vocal like the famous photo of him foot-stepping across the hands of adoring fans. Fun house, amusement park ride, spinning, whirling, diving, looping, sawing, burring. Fuck, yeah. What a vocal. The art of head-bobbing is also easily picked up here—the very word "loose," as called out and used repeatedly, provides a good place to grab on and hold tight. It's a big ride.

"T.V. Eye"—the single, haha. No, it should have been ("Down on the Street" and "1970" actually were). It's the blessed Stooges din we've been living in for two songs now, but with a brooding paranoia like a TV show and an overriding concept too. Something about ... we are the dupes of TV, and furthermore, the TV is looking back. Basic lunatic lines, of course, but shouldn't matter because the intensity is just so all of a piece. Now Iggy Stooge capers and leaps about the microphone like a mad imp, until the band transforms into a juggernaut that hunts down his screaming ass. This is told both directly and in terms of the way the song is written and recorded, going into an absolute fugue state, which then devolves back to the guitar, solo, literally solo, riffing, and so eventually back into the Stooges amusement park we have now stayed with for three songs, and huzzah.

The last song on the side, "Dirt," is also the longest, and here is where the deepest drunken trances occurred, with the spooky way the vocal unspools, and the punishing guitar and drum trap bash and moody nagging bass line. You sort of fly into this one from the rush of the three before it, and here is actually a good place even for "the whirlies" to hit, if you can get down with that and have the stomach for it. (I no longer do, by the way, so all reports here are from memory, and furthermore, this is not exactly recommended.) The listener at this point may go free-floating off into a place of great space and no gravity, whirling, slowly, in almost a state of pre-birth—a profound experience. "Do you feel it? / Do you feel it when you touch me? / Said do you feel it when you touch me?" What's that he says? I could swear it's "cut."

Well, you get the picture I hope. The other side is good too, with "1970" and a title song and finally a free jazz exercise called "L.A. Blues" (complete with tenor saxophone, also heard on the rest of the side). But Fun House for me was always mainly a one-sided album: "Down on the Street" (3:42), "Loose" (3:33), "T.V. Eye" (4:17), and "Dirt" (7:00). Repeat as needed.

As for the "Complete Sessions," I still haven't been able to judge. I liked the idea of it a lot, but never detected a great deal of difference between the takes. But then, I was listening to things at that time mostly in shuffle mode, so the different Fun House takes just flashed up now and then with no rhyme or reason. I'm not in a position to say. More than anything, I loved the idea of this great album suddenly swelling sevenfold. It is the equivalent of any number of groups of seven albums you'd care to name, I'd say. It is a thrill ride and a mighty crusher.

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