The Stooges - Fun House

by Mark Moody Rating:10 Release Date:1970-07-07
The Stooges - Fun House
The Stooges - Fun House

The Stooges’ Fun House is a malevolent force to be reckoned with.  Sure, its predecessor had ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, but that only clocked in at three minutes (I’ve never heard anyone cover it in less than eight if they want to do it justice - see Alejandro Escovedo’s More Miles Than Money take).  But clearly the prior album was a lesser one, there are handclaps of all things on ‘No Fun’ and in many respects it was undistinguished from other garage band output of the day.  And Fun House’s successor, Raw Power, while undoubtedly a classic in its own right with Iggy’s upfront vocals and clutch of great songs, is still plagued by arguments over Bowie’s mix or Iggy’s mix much like whether The Velvet Underground “closet mix” is the best or not.  Not unlike the handclaps on the debut, Raw Power has an acoustic guitar on ‘Gimme Danger’ taking off an edge when Fun House never would have allowed that.  This leaves the bell curve center of their three albums as their molten testimony to what this band was like at its live peak.  Ironically produced by the keyboard player for the Kingsmen of ‘Louie, Louie’ fame, aside from its raggedness the yowling rage of the album bears no resemblance to anything that came before.  There is a reason that this album, above the others, has an eight hour full sessions version, including 28 (!) takes of ‘Loose’ (no I can’t bear that, but Take 16 made a highlights version of the massive tome).

After initial attempts to assert some form of modern recording techniques over the process, the band was assembled as they played live for the recording sessions, including Iggy Pop using a handheld mic.  As Pop himself has indicated, his vocals on Fun House are inspired by Howlin’ Wolf and the slabs of heavy blues guitar at the hands of Ron Asheton underline the clear influence of their predecessors.  On the opening ‘Down on the Street’, the first thing we hear from Pop isn’t even a yell or scream, but more the sound of someone who has just been gut punched - a sucking in not pushing out.  It’s unsettling at best and met with Asheton’s basic chords and riffs coupled with the insistent rhythm of Asheton’s brother, Scott, on drums and Dave Alexander on bass the song starts its sluggish grind.  Some guitar licks escape from the sludge, but barely, and Pop’s vocals while expressive are only intelligible in snippets as he’s given over to be churned into the mix.  The energy level is amped up considerably for ‘Loose’ with its mutated ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ verses and the clearest line of the album, the double entendre of “I’ll stick it deep inside” being all the more disturbing for standing apart from the fray.  That being said, ‘Loose’ is closest thing representing a single here and it is a monster.  ’T.V. Eye’ is a four minute pounding whose false stop leads to a final grinding out.  While the extended ‘Dirt’ contains some of Asheton’s most tortured solos over a slower tempo. 

If side one is a challenge, side two is downright dour.  Excluded to this point, Scott Mackay’s absolutely unharmonious sax work is added to up the stridency level.  The opening strut of ‘1970’ gives way in the final ninety seconds, where Mackay makes his first appearance, to devolve into a collapsing wall of noise.  In a sense, ‘1970’ serves as microcosm for the entire side as it’s ending foretells the meltdown to come and Pop’s repeated boasts of “I feel alright” are hardly convincing but reappear throughout the side.  The almost eight minute title track follows and in many ways is just an extension of ‘1970’ though given the time to stretch out Pop shows his admitted Jim Morrison influence.  His taunts of “little baby girlie, little baby boy” drip with some ambiguous sexuality as the band keeps an insistent beat.  In spite of the discordance of these opening tracks, nothing quite prepares you for the depravity of ‘L.A. Blues’ (there are no alternate takes of this track on the full sessions implying this was recorded in one take and if you struggle with self-loathing this will do fine).  The track serves to show there was no reward for having made it this far, not unlike the final scenes of Apocalypse Now.  Beginning with Pop’s screams and Mackay’s lengthy bleats, the track is a five minute deconstruction of anything that might be considered musical and ends with Pop sounding downright feral.  We have ‘L.A. Blues’ to thank as progenitor for anything recorded with the primary purpose of being unlistenable - from Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music to Parquet Courts’ Monastic Living.                   

If you’ve not experienced the album, it should be clear there is nothing about it that is enjoyable in spite of its title.  Not something to be listened to with others it’s more for putting on after a bad day at the office or when you’re otherwise feeling miserable.  Though Pop yowls and screams his way through the album, it’s the opposite of catharsis for the listener - no sense of relief is obtained or offered.  It’s a dark journey packaged by men in the ravages of addiction preserved on vinyl as a testament to its own torturous self.  Coming up on fifty years since its release, and with Pop their only surviving member, it is no more socially acceptable today than it was then.  But even if dark and foreboding, there is an undeniable pull and power to it that demands to be acknowledged, admired for its grotesqueness, and let out of its cage from time to time. 

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