Re-Licked - James Williamson (Leopard Lady)
Okay. Let's get one thing straight. This album is great. Here's your six bottles, James. (Last time I tried to give you six bottles for something, the Barman turned me down but now we seem fine with that kind of thing). Now, if the Barman would do a quick edit we could be three for three. Six. Six. Six. Apt.
Of course there are elephants in the room. Great hulking elephants and the occasional five foot one elephant. I guess we'll just have to tackle them head on. (Can I pun my way through this whole review? ) As a spoiler, I've read Robert's review because I know he'll have a different take to me. I haven't read the Barman's because it is always funny how often we write the same review. There could be some overlap.
"Ready to Die" was a spectacular album. It gets better with every listen. Some people took a half-hearted listen to it and rejected it out of hand. They wanted it to be the great "Lost" Stooges album. Iggy wanted to go a different way and, god damn, it was a great choice. Do you think I wouldn't like Iggy Pop singing this? Of course I would. It's not going to happen. Or maybe it will. Maybe Iggy'll hear this and decide he wants his vocals slapped all over the top. I, personally, think hell will freeze over first. But I would have said the same thing about the chances of this album appearing too.
But there's your first elephant. The Stooges without Iggy. I know a lot of you folk won't accept a Stooges without Ron or a Stooges without Rock. A Stooges without anyone off the first album? But here is your touring band and, credit where credit is due, they are mighty.
If this album arrived without any baggage, you would shit yourself in disbelief about how good it actually is. I really love the way Mike Watt recreates that wall of hell deep sonic rumble that blessed all those obscure '70s Stooges bootlegs. Man. You could hear the building shake on those things. On the last tour, I looked at the potential for disaster with Toby Dammit on drums instead of Scott. I was forced to publicly eat my words. The man can wind back and thump those skins, holding the engine in perfect check. Dare I say this is a seriously funky rhythm section? I’d be on dangerous ground because some people just can’t accept that rock and roll can be funky.
And then there is the main man. James Williamson. The man who invented the most blistering guitar sound in the history of the world and has yet to find equal. And here he reminds you just why you picked up a guitar in the first place. If this is the band, then there is going to be nothing wrong on that side of the equation. They deliver. No questions asked. No excuses made. They are a vast unstoppable dancing machine. On those grounds alone, this would be a worthy album to buy. Hell, they could enlist a vocalist by sticking a Steven Spielberg animatronic robot up Perry Como's rotted back passage and this thing is still going to sound pretty damn good. Fortunately, the choices made were better than that.
Now you're going to have your favourite guest vocalists and your not so favourite singers. That's the nature of this kind of beast. Give people a choice and, of course, they’re going to bitch. Truth be told, they all do a good job. But, once again, here come those elephants. These are lyrics from a really different time. And let's face it. Singing spite, venom and abuse looks good on the young and the pretty. Whilst Jello Biafro has a good old stab at being angry on "Head on Curve" he doesn't quite pull off the sexy with his angry. Yeah. It's a rare sentence that contains the words "Jello" and "Sexy". Iggy Pop in the seventies managed to make being a spoilt vicious brat an attractive proposition.
And it was a different world. None of these lyrics ever had to pass any kind of feminist critique or endure the restrictions of good taste. Iggy just took another hit and spewed forth at whatever. One will, however, note that no-one stepped up to the plate to commit career suicide by covering Iggy's paean to all the Hebrew ladies out there. The vocalists recruited for this project are filling some big shoes (figuratively if not literally).
These are well known songs. Well known to people like me, and probably you, anyway. There was a time back in 1977 that the only Stooges album you could buy was "Metallic KO". Singles of "I got a Right" and "Sick of You" were the centrepiece of your record collection. And despite the failings of the recording process, these tracks were literal voodoo totems. They had spirit magic. They rebuilt the world in their image.
It is, perhaps, of little wonder that Iggy takes a step back. This is the kind of stuff not to be fucked with, right? Well, the vocalists have all bought their best game. Even poor old Jello, who I singled out earlier. I mean, this is his best vocal performance since "Holiday in Cambodia" so who am I to knock him? But the dude should lay off the helium before takes.
Overall, the women shine over the men. Caroline Wonderland can get away with the lyrics of something like "Gimme Some Skin" and its whipping it in and out talk of shooting speed up assholes. I’m glad Jello let that one slide.
Alison Mosshat’s shot at “Til the End of the Night” is unbelievable. Seriously. She takes a She takes an overlooked shelf item and turns it into an album highlight. An absolute must have. However, having middle aged men singing about the cocks in their pockets maybe comes across as a little sleazy - particularly when the man in question sings like a redneck shipping a truck full of hogs across state lines. (Gary Floyd, I’m looking at you). Nicke Andersson does a better job but I think they should have handed that little gem off to one of the women.
Maybe (Williamson collaborator and former Transvision Vamp vocalist”) Wendy James could have been dragged in for something really novel. But these are personal choices. The album's great. "She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills" emerges as a genuine song in the spirit of Funhouse and it rocks - or kind of rolls if you want to be specific. On previous bootlegs I had figured it was just a studio jam that an opportunistic bootlegger had slammed a title on. Here it emerges as a cross between James Brown and Cozy Powell’s “Dance With the Devil”.
Mario Cuomo’s take on "Sick Of You" is wonderfully sensitive. "Wet My Bed" makes a mockery of my derisory comments about middle aged men performing sleazy songs. Lisa Kekaula’s take on "I Got a Right" is exactly what you hoped it would be. Okay. Maybe the guitar solo doesn’t quite catch the mercury of the old Siamese seven inch but her vocals are a more than added compensation. And her opening scream at the start of “Heavy Liquid” is blood curdling in the best possible sense of the word.
Joe Cardemone and Bobby Gillespie do pretty straight Iggy impersonations on “Pinpoint Eyes” and “Scene of the Crime”. “Wild Love” becomes a vaguely psychopathic duet between Mark Lanegan and the aforementioned Alison Mosshat. All these tracks are worth the price of admission alone.
Pay your money. Take your chance. I’m typing away whilst dancing to the damn thing. When it comes out, I’ll even buy a copy (I find it hard to accept MP3s as a real thing) but if James wants to mail me a free copy, I’m open to that too! On a final sour note, I'm a little fed up of CD and vinyl releases having different tracks. It is time for companies to stop punishing people who actually buy their music for the crimes of those who don't. Just a little rant. It's probably unfair to single out this one release as a culprit. But since I'm giving this disc top marks and beyond, it seems fair to put that out there. - Bob Short
There are two ways to view this album.
You can take the stance of a dogged Stooges diehard who’s hoarded his/her bootlegs and obscure releases of live and rehearsal recordings for decades, bemoan Iggy’s absence and conclude that “Re-Licked” isn’t worthy of your time. Or you can listen to its crop of lesser-heard songs, delivered by a crop of singers marshalled by arch-guitarist James Williamson, and judge each on their merits.
Either way, there are hard facts to be faced. The first one is that the longer they stay off the road, the more likely it is that the Stooges – or, more correctly, Iggy and the Stooges – may be no more. As Iggy himself has recently noted, records don’t make an artist a whole lotta money. As much as The Road is where Iggy derives an income, there are easier ways for a 67-year-old with houses in multiple countries to maintain the lifestyle to which he’s accustomed than throwing himself around on a stage with a bunch of thugs every second night. Iggy’s still going to be a live drawcard even if he finds more genteel ways of getting out there.
The second is that although the core band is the current version of the Stooges, Iggy didn’t want to be on these recordings. Why isn’t entirely clear – he hasn’t been drawn publicly - but we can make assumptions. While he’s never been precious about letting fans hear his old Stoogestuff (as the Revenge, Fan Club, Skydog, Bomp and Easy Action labels can all attest), he’s also not one to cocoon himself in his past, preferring to look forward rather than back over his shoulder – at least when in a studio.
If “Ready To Die” proves to be Iggy and the Stooges’ final fully-fledged studio hit-out, it won’t be a bad way to leave us, but that shouldn’t de-value the worth of “Re-Licked”. You’ve heard about the rogue’s gallery of vocalists that Williamson recruited/attracted, but for me the casting is secondary to both the songs and the quality of the Stooges’ playing.
The heavy but sure-footed thwack-and-thump of the late Rock Action is inevitably and noticeably absent, but replacement Toby Damnit is no slouch. Mike Watt’s intelligent bass-work is sublime. Steve Mackay’s sax work isn’t as prominently frequent as you might expect but what there is (notably on “Pinpoint Eyes”) works a treat. It’s enlightening to finally hear what Straight James was actually playing on many of these tunes and fascinating to hear him take the odd departure. Bottom line is, of course, that these songs belong to him and Iggy and either can do with them whatever the fuck they like.
Just like on “Ready To Die”, this record is the Stooges playing as a band. The songs are from the “bar band era” where the label-less Stooges flitted from one side of the USA to the other, eking out coin from live shows and living hand to mouth. The tunes range from the reasonably well known (“I Got A Right”, “I’m Sick Of You”) to the obscure (“Till The End Of The Night”) and the way they’re rendered spans sleazy jazz-blues (“Pinpoint Eyes”) to furious and lewd rockers (“Gimme Some Skin.”)
Remember “Wild Love” (presuming you’ve heard it)? Where it once might have been a lyrical conversation between two or more of Iggy’s personalities, it’s been re-invented as a duet between Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and Alison Mosshart (The Kills, Dead Weather) - and is kinda inspired.
Jello Biafra helium-warbles his way through “Head On The Curve” and does a fantastic job of it. Carolyn Wonderland’s take on “Open Up And Bleed” has already been well ventilated, courtesy of being the album’s Record Store Day lead single, and still holds up to these ears.
The BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula delivers the goods vocally but the backing on “I Gotta Right” doesn’t match the widely-heard original single for savagery. There are two versions of “Rubber Leg” (previously mis-named “Rubber Legs”) and although neither Ron Young or Gary Floyd reach Iggy’s level of lunacy from the best rehearsal tape version (that’d be from the Morgan Sound Studio) they each sound unhinged enough in their own way. Bobby Gillespie’s “Scene of the Crime” is played straight and great.
Ariel Pink’s body of work (apparently an L.A. take on Goth) is a stranger to my ears but his treatment of “Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills” is close to the best thing on the album with him sounding like the love child of the two Jameses (Brown and Osterberg.) Chalk one up here, too, for the ethereal arrangement by Field Marshall Williamson. The production is top notch, by the way, and makes you wish he and Iggy hadn’t parted ways after their studio partnership hit Bowie rocks during the recording of “Soldier.”
A couple of multiple takes litter the 16 tracks on “Re-Licked” and it’s hard to argue with their inclusion as bonuses. They’re all keepers.
Granted that we usually come here to praise the Stooges rather than bury them and as a rule you shouldn’t fuck with classics. I’m also flying in the face of a couple of people whose opinion I usually implicitly trust here, but “Re-Licked” has enough energy, fine playing and (deep breath) convincing vocals to present as something unique in the canon of Stooge-inspired music. Get it. - The Barman
It’s Rolling Stones Week here in Adelaide, Australia. Right now hundreds of fans around the city are on ‘Stones Watch’, chasing legendary wraiths, trying to get to their rehearsal space, looking for big fuck-off black tinpot dictator limousines…
Go and get your copy of "Raw Power" right now.
No, not any of the variants or out-takes, not the remixed version… the original.
If you don’t have an original, let me tell you a little about why it, and Iggy and the Stooges, were so important to a certain generation, particularly those whose first exposure to Iggy was to "Raw Power"; bootlegs Metallic KO (Skydog Records of France, in 1976) or "Night of the Iguana" (not to be confused with Bomp’s much later "Year of the Iguana", "Night of the Iguana" was a rarer bootleg, and I’ve only ever seen two). And I’m sure many other folks in the USA and UK were corrupted by the seven-inch singles "I Got a Right" and "Jesus Loves the Stooges" (both on Bomp.)
Firstly, "Raw Power" looked like an abomination, and sounded worse. There’s Iggy, thin and pale as a phantom, or some sort of cod-vampire-homosexual-weirdo. Quite frankly, that cover was one of the most shocking images I was exposed to by the age of twelve (and I’m including the Vietnam War). Iggy looked like something completely different, vulnerable but dangerous, and … you couldn’t work out why he looked dangerous.
Iggy certainly didn’t fit into any of the heavy metal families. Nor, really glam. Total freak. The name itself sounded bizarre, if not demonic.
Now, the first Raw Power LP sounded like it had been dipped in mud, at a time when commercial records were glossy, jammy or gently hippy. The songs were clearly full-tilt, brilliant - but a sort’ve patina of sludge assaulted us. The songs… well, they revealed themselves as masterworks the more you listened. Take "Metallic KO". A bootleg (we figured) at a time when the rock underground had more bootleg manufacturers than pimples on a burger-flipper, Metallic KO was unearthly. There’s our hero, flat on his back wearing Christ knows what. There’s a distinct element of perversion in the shot, quite apart from the obvious - no singer performed flat on their back. Singers stood, or sat. Either way, they ponced.
Iggy looked dead. I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who were influenced by one or more of these records. Some formed bands, chasing an impossible dream in a world without dreams or belief. Punk would not have happened if it hadn’t been for these three lps; think about it. How many scruffy oiks saw these semi-under-the-counter discs, got them home to tiresome suburbs to discover … an entire elemental underworld? And to cap it all, Raw Power was also available through a widely-dispersed mail-order record catalogue, alongside The Doobie Brothers and Showaddywaddy’s Greatest Hits. It looked like the cataloguers had made a mistake.
Then we heard the quality of the recording. Fuck.
I can do that.
Well, actually, as time proved all too well, no, you can’t, little man. James Williamson’s chord progressions were an original niche in a world relying on pomp and bombast. No-one could match them - and there have been many who thought they could. Iggy and the Stooges, like their antecedents the Stooges, were the real deal. Real men, who were living real strange stories. Hell, they were so damned important to Australia there was a double lp of cover versions - including one track from an Adelaide band dedicated to playing only (Iggy and) the Stooges.
I don’t mind the (how many is it now, Barman? four versions of "Raw Power", all different in some way from the original release?) different interpretations. But it’s folks like Marc Zermati (Skydog and others), the late Greg Shaw (Bomp, intent on ‘Saving the World, One Record at a Time’, are still going), and Carlton at Easy Action Records in the UK who have unearthed numerous original rehearsals and demo recordings and released them in an assortment of fantastic boxes. So when I get a bit … you know, in a bit of a mood … I’ll still haul out my poor battered "Raw Power" on that shit burnt-orange label, and follow it up with a bunch of discs from Easy Action.
And, for many years, we all thought that, bar the Stooges live shows, would be that.
Then, a few years ago, James Williamson got ahold of the tapes recorded in 1975, which had been issued by Bomp in 1977; this was Iggy’s third LP that year, fuelling the return of Iggy - and innumerable Stooges reissues.
Williamson tweaked "Kill City" into an incandescent, glorious joy. See that’s the thing, and so many people still don’t get it. What Williamson was doing with Iggy was an often ferocious, raucous approach to similar concepts being approached by, say, Leonard Cohen or even Tom Waits. And there’s the key: approach. ReLicked has strong elements of soul, original r&b, and that’s appropriate given Iggy’s background as well as Williamson’s.
Consequently, when Williamson realised he had a once-only opportunity to re-record the tracks which were never properly released (the Stooges had the equivalent of over two lps worth in the end), he made a decision.
Iggy, probably tired of copping crap reviews for LPs and fulsome praise for his live shows, opted out. Hell, he’s Iggy, he can do what he wants, he doesn’t need our good opinion.
So James Williamson has returned to a period essentially dormant, under the radar for decades, with almost every song using a different vocalist (Carolyn Wonderland, Lisa Kekaula and Alison Mosshart get two each), mostly because Iggy’s voice is so … extraordinary … And you know I only turn in a review here if the release is damn good - or puzzling. But am I going to be stupidly fulsome in my praise?
No. I’ll tell you a little - and only a little. Because this is record you need to own. Even if you don’t like the Stooges, or Iggy, you really gotta have this. Williamson has been really, really smart - he didn’t do what you or I would’ve done - had a bash ourselves, with disastrous results. And I might add that, to my shame, I haven’t heard of half these vocalists, which I’ll be rectifying very soon.
We start with "Head on the Curve" (a title constantly misused by bootleggers, and one significant Australian band name), sung by Jello Biafra. What a joyful smack in the puss this is. Williamson’s kept the swipe sounds of his fingers sliding up and down the fretboard as an integral part of the song - which should tell you a little something. "Skull" (his other life’s nickname) is a perfectionist. So all the songs here have a gritty immediacy which sweeps you up. Jello, the arch-anticapitalist ranter extraordinaire, is perfect with Head On, a big fat funky slab of honesty and despair. Positively gleeful.
"Open Up and Bleed", a gorgeous blues/soul lament follows … something you might not have guessed from the version on, say, "Metallic KO", f’rinstance. By God, Caroline Wonderland has the right name, her voice is spectacular.
Bobby Gillespie brings us "Scene of the Crime", and fits so evenly into the Primal Scream roster it’s just eerie. Like the song was kinda made for him. Or… he was so plugged into the Stooges that it’s obvious only now.
And what a pleasure it is to hear all the instruments properly recorded. We can properly hear what Williamson was up to for the first time in many instances, and how he slinks in and out of the piano and drums. And the lyrics! I can figure them all out!
She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills many will not be familiar with as it only turned up on a few later bootlegs. Ariel Pink (no, not that Pink, this is the quality one) is bloody brilliant in a pimpy cadillac version complete with big floppy hats and Saturday Night Specials which explode in your groin. Groovalicious. Pink’s vocals are so good they’re actually the closest to Iggy’s of the period - which I doubt was the intention. Bloody brilliance. End of the first side.
The second side starts and Til the End of the Night is bloody beautiful. Alison Mosshart’s vocal is what the dailies call haunting, and I’m going to leave it there, Til the End of the Night is a highlight; operatic without the stupidity. Go forth, young man…
"I Gotta Right" follows with an utter rollercoaster tinged with gore and soul, sung by Lisa Kekaula. By Christ this is glorious. Her voice, like everyone so far, is just perfect, nuanced, gutsy, full-tilt emotional. She couldn’t sing it better if she’d written it herself. Stunning.
I’m gonna run out of superlatives, aren’t I?
Next up is Joe Cardamone with the revealing "Pinpoint Eyes", a lazy, staggering song with that superb inshallah aspect the blues often has… Joe’s interpretation is strong, loose and fulsome. Hell, how many more of these single-quality songs did the record industry miss 40 years ago?
"Wild Love" is one I hadn’t heard before; sung here in fine, memorable form by Mark Lanegan and Alison Mosshart in a rough tryst, and it’s another big tuff monster with the kind of vocals you can’t avoid. Even though so far, this is the closest song to a mainstream track - we get taken in by Lanegan and Mosshart. The playing is precise, rugged and rough and ends Side Two.
Similarly tough and jagged is Ron Young’s accurate and ripped throat take of "Rubber Leg" (which I always thought was plural); "Rubber Leg" was always one of my favourite of the out-takes, an utterly groovy, bar-room belter somewhere between glam and savagery. Funny as fuck, too. Call me old-fashioned.
Side Three is the killer side; "I’m Sick of You" (another of my favourites) follows with Mario Cuomo, who handles the lengthy eerie beginning with intelligence and emotion… and the guitars (and whatever else is making all that dangerous noise) rising and falling like a fever dream until they turn into some sort of excoriating acid. Ugly and eloquent.
Now, in cd terms, that’s it, that’s yer lot, fuck off.
But, in the real world, Side Three rips onward like a drunk and mean old nag, gloriously free for the first time in years. Gimme Some Skin (another of my favourites); Wonderland couldn’t hope to capture the sheer hysteria of the original (had me cackling like a baboon the first time I heard the original single) so she’s gone for a punch-you-in-the-head-idiot-features tack which is … yeah, it’s brilliant. And the guitar’s bloody killer.
"Cock in My Pocket" is handled by Nicke Andersson who sounds like he’s got cancer of the throat, which suitably encapsulates the filthy selfishness of the original. Another bar-room romperstomper, complete with skin wars.
So, to Side Four - or, if you like, more extra tracks …
"Heavy Liquid", sung by Lisa Kekaula is another of these extraordinary big, beefy, meaty soul-tinged soul-crunchers… full-on my children. You get all out of breath just listening to her.
"Wet My Bed" is sung by the Richmond Sluts, whoever they may be. This juddering gin-soaked bar piano drags us out of bed and chastises us. I recall a friend’s response to this song - I think on Night of the Iguana - why would someone sing about that…? Crackling stuff, I can hear Jerry Lee Lewis whimpering from here.
Gary Floyd - lead singer of MDC and Black Flag contemporaries the Dicks (massively under-rated, by the by) takes "Cock in My Pocket" and and tears it a new orifice. Fabulous, rousing, methamphetamining.
Melbourne’s finest New Yorker with a huge rep, J.G. Thirlwell, handles another, more corrupted version of "Rubber Leg". Fascinating to hear Thirlwell’s phrasing - pure Igster, and you can hear where so much of Foetus’ wrenched vocals have come from over the years. And that’s the end of the cd, or Side Four, and what a splendid immolative chest-crusher it is.
So, the Stooges are gone, and yet … the Stooges ride again.
If you’re familiar with the original songs here "Re Licked", that’s nice. Those Easyaction discs are hard to walk away from, and the Bomp ones are lovely as well. But ReLicked is another place entirely, taking Williamson and Osterberg’s original songs and taking aim in a way the Igster couldn’t, can’t…
I can see each and every single song here featuring in mainstream films or forensic crime TV series, and Iggy and Williamson deserve it, too. I must emphasise again, this ain’t a covers record by a long chalk. It’s like the natural progression the Stooges never had. And that makes "Re-Licked" essential.
Now, I know I’ll still go back to my battered lps and stuff… and you know it too.
Doesn’t stop me giving "Re-Licked" a full six bottles.
It’s a fucking brilliant double LP, that’s fucking why.
And if that’s not good enough, if your other half can’t understand why you lose it so much when the Stooges are on the headphones, put this on. She’ll change her mind.
Hey, maybe that rates another bottle, Mr Barman..? - Robert Brokenmouth