On “Ready to Die” (Fat Possum), Iggy Pop returns with his old ‘70s sidekick, James Williamson, for one more blow-out under the Stooges’ name. At this point, Pop, Williamson and original drummer Scott Asheton (plus bassist Mike Watt) can’t add much to what the Stooges accomplished in their 1969-73 heyday, when they created a template for punk, post-punk and just about every permutation of garage rock. And, yet, “Ready to Die” holds up as an unexpectedly sturdy late-career coda.
Though it is nowhere near as indelible as the Stooges’ first three landmark albums, “Ready to Die” is much stronger than the band’s 2007 comeback, “The Weirdness.” A lot of the credit goes to Williamson, who joined the retooled Stooges for their third and best-known album, “Raw Power,” produced by David Bowie in 1973. He continued to work with Pop the rest of the decade, and together they explored a range of emotional and sonic textures that weren’t always apparent in the Stooges’ take-no-prisoners world. On Pop’s 1979 Williamson-produced solo album, “New Values,” the singer’s vocals took on unexpected dimensions of vulnerability, and those echoes resurface on “Ready to Die.”
Williamson’s also a hard-rock riff machine, and the new album kicks off with four shots to the dome. Atop the guitar churn, Pop keeps it pithy, ticked off, darkly humorous in the tradition of his best Stooges street haiku. “Gun” mocks America’s love affair with violence, “Job” nails the recession blues, “Sex and Money” swings with glam-rock sarcasm.
“Money is a waste of time,” Pop sings, “course I made sure that I got mine.”
It’s brilliant writing, drilling both the self-righteous and the greedy, with the narrator once again on the outside -- the world’s forgotten boy, to quote the Iggy of ’73.
The album’s 10-song, 37-minute, get-in-get-out concision is a major virtue, though the quality control isn’t consistent. The lascivious “DD’s” is just plain dumb, and the sensitivity doesn’t play well on the sleepy “Unfriendly World.” But Pop digs deep on the strangely beautiful dirge “The Departed,” which sounds like a stirring eulogy to his old Stooges bandmate, Ron Asheton, who died in 2009. “Where is the life we started?,” Pops asks. If this resilient little hymn is the last thing he records under the Stooges name – and who knows how long they’ve got? – it makes for a heck of an exit.