Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Iggy & The Stooges - Raw Power to Roar Power!

by Madeline Bocaro
Cheers to Sony Legacy for giving Iggy Pop the ultimatum, “Either you
re-mix it or we will!” No matter what Iggy did with the Raw Power
master tapes, it would have been inarguably legitimate. He’s the man,
and this is it -- the way it should have been. But first, let’s be
thankful for the way it was.
One day it appeared in all its magnificence…the elusive artifact, the
holy grail, the Raw Power album. When Raw Power was mixed by David
Bowie and released in 1973, it became history -- fast. Admittedly, the
original mix was done on old equipment, which further distorted (or
enhanced) an already chaotic, unconventional and rebellious sound. The
vocals and guitar were so prominent that the low end was barely
audible. This razor sharp edge secured the album’s place in history.
To me, (as a pre-teen) it sounded like a bunch of angry guys attacking
some kind of machinery with razor blades. A fresh sonic abomination,
re-defining music altogether. It was a dazzling mess, only because of
the tight, powerful band behind the metallic wall of sound -- the
Stooges. It highly repelled my parents and friends, so I knew I had
discovered a real treasure. Then it became critically acclaimed,
proving there were other people in the world with good taste.
Apparently, Iggy’s original naïve attempt at mixing in 1974 had all the
instruments on one channel and the vocals on the other, just as EMI had
done to simulate stereo on the Beatles’ back catalogue. Bowie, whose
production Iggy does not discredit under the circumstances, was called
upon to rectify the situation.
Iggy’s violent 90’s mix doesn’t rattle and hiss. It thumps, roars and
pounces like a wildcat. The venom may be diluted, but that cheetah’s
heart is still full of napalm. It’s been transformed from Raw Power to
Roar Power. You can’t play this mix at low volume. It’s already loud
at volume level one, and distortion already sets in at level two. You
actually can’t crank it up without destroying your speakers. The
cranking is already done for you. How considerate!
This may be the greatest archaeological project of the ages…polishing a huge rough diamond “using technology," defining and clarifying its shape and glory. Iggy claims, “Actually it was a 16 track recording done on 13 tracks. There are 13 clean tracks on Raw Power.” 

We’re hearing the bass and drums for the first time. Scott Asheton wasn’t tapping on Tinker Toys after all, and brother Ron Asheton’s bass comes alive, vibrating and pulsating, giving the music its heart. Now the guitar work of James Williamson actually has, dare I say it, warmth. Anarchy is revered, censorship is defied and the music remains wild and alive.

Iggy’s production works especially well on the “ballads." On “Gimme
Danger” and “Penetration” the acoustic guitar’s hollow sound increases
the aural intimacy tenfold. The mix of “I Need Somebody” blows the
dust off the bluesy guitar and bass and lets them shine.
Iggy treated his own bitchin’ vocals with utmost respect. The
prehistoric transistor AM radio sound has been upgraded to FM stereo!
An added treat is the extra fifteen-second endings on some tracks,
instead of the original fade-outs. Check out the ending of “Death
Trip!” Finally, Iggy’s long-lost “burp” launches “Raw Power” as it
well should. There’s a long interview with Iggy in the CD booklet, and
Mick Rock’s original cover art is intact. This thing on the cover
called Iggy was a charismatic monstrosity -- androgynous black-lipped,
sinuous. A hieroglyphic etched in celluloid, eternal, historic. Raw.
Power. Although the cover was grandiose, the music inside was
something entirely deviant. Its aberrant sounds gashed the skin of
I’m far from shelving the original mix. It will always be a part of my
own personal history, having lived with it for over twenty years. Even
today it out-sexes the Pistols, out nerves Nirvana and smashes the
Pumpkins to bits. Iggy’s new mix is for the musician’s ear, and for
kids who were reared on professional sounding recordings. Twenty years
on, they’ll be saying, “I hear there’s an original mix that kicks ass!”
Let’s hope they’ll be able to track it down as well.
The Raw Power album has impacted and permeated three decades and
generations…so far. “Search & Destroy” was featured in a Nike
commercial. What does this mean? A Stooges fan obtained a high
position in Nike’s ad department, and the Stooges music is now
considered cool. Now I’d be really impressed if Revlon used “Your
Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” to sell their age-defying makeup!