Classics Critiqued

This is a new monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

The Stooges – ‘Funhouse’ (Elektra, 1970)

Earlier this month Iggy and The Stooges ‘Raw Power’ was reissued in Legacy and Deluxe Editions to largely unanimous acclaim and like all Stooges albums it has been critically reappraised and influential on subsequent generations. I have never heard ‘Raw Power’ properly, but it’s a record whose influence on punk and heavy metal is clear, so I decided to cover The Stooges second album ‘Funhouse’ recorded by the original line-up of Iggy Pop (vocals), Ron Asheton (guitar), Dave Alexander (bass) and Scott Asheton (drums).

Between their self titled debut album and ‘Funhouse’ The Stooges toured nonstop becoming simultaneously a tighter and looser outfit and writing all the material that ended up on ‘Funhouse’. When they entered Elecktra Sound Recorder Studio in L.A. on May 10th with producer Don Galucci (formerly organ player with The Kingsmen) they recorded one song a day in the order they were to appear on the album with few or no overdubs. This is a factor that marks ‘Funhouse’ out from their other releases; this is their live shows on disk but with the benefit of studio recording techniques. It is the band at their most in-your-face.

From the outset Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander lock into a heavy groove, allowing Ron Asheton to smother the songs in fluid lava fuzz wah guitar and Iggy to have free reign that finds him veering from anguish to anger and regularly unleashing primal screams. The Stooges were always wild and bearly controlled but few bands could and have matched ‘Funhouse’s malevolence without descending into tunelessness.

The Stooges were joined by fifth member Steve Mackay who lent fiery tenor sax lines to the second half of record. Mackay not only added texture to mix but pushed the sound further out; making songs such as ‘Dirt’ and ‘Funhouse’ feel as if on edge of collapse before the band pulls it back from the brink just in time.

When Ron Asheton passed away on 6th January 2009 he left behind a great legacy in ‘Funhouse’ and the other Stooges records he’d played on. It was a legacy that had been largely ignored and not acknowledged before his untimely death. His guitar slithers across the whole of ‘Funhouse’ adding to the groove and swagger and complimenting Iggy’s James Brown style grunting and sexual groaning. Asheton is at his most free and the album is the greatest testament to his playing ability. After ‘Funhouse’ Asheton switched to bass guitar with the departure of Dave Alexander and arrival of Texan guitarist James Williamson, which is a shame as Asheton seemed to truly be tapping into his full potential.

‘Funhouse’s influence is harder to detect than that of their other albums but it’s felt in subtler way and inspires bands that are under the radar and it has been the more interesting rock acts who’ve heaped praise upon this neglected album. The likes of J.Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore have confessed to spending many an hour trying to decode what can seem to be simplistic sonic formula yet the devil is the detail and delivery. At first Iggy’s lyrics can seem innocuous and on the surface Ron Asheton’s guitar riffs are no different to any other garage rock guitarists but the demented screaming vocals, the implied menace and the controlled drone underpinning everything Asheton touches means The Stooges can never be classified in the same way as their contemporaries. Recently their influence can be heard with acts such as Add N to (X) and Acoustic Ladyland and with a hint in Sleigh Bells but the influence manifests differently. Add N to (X) subtly subsume the aesthetics of ‘Funhouse’ into an electronic sound, Acoustic Ladyland take their cues from Steve Mackay’s input and create a brilliant jazz-punk fusion on albums ‘Last Chance Disco’ (2005) and ‘Living with A Tiger’ (2009) and Sleigh Bells draw on the aesthetic and in-your-face sonics.

‘Funhouse’ went in at  No.16 in Mojo’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time but a better recommendation is a personal one from Henry Rollins who wrote in his 1994 book Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag: “Everybody should own a copy of that album.”

Spotify Playlist:

The Stooges – Funhouse [Deluxe Edition]

The Stooges – Funhouse [Deluxe Edition]