Release Date: April 30, 2013
Label: Fat Possum
Ready to die? Hopefully not, although time is tight for James Osterberg — our hero’s now eligible for Social Security. The previous Stooges outing, 2007’s The Weirdness, was a missed opportunity, adding to the sense of urgency surrounding their next recorded move. With the death of Ron Asheton following that set, James Williamson assumed the guitarist’s chair for a full reboot of Iggy and the Stooges, echoing the change that sparked their landmark, punk-defining 1973 album Raw Power. (Should history continue to repeat, Iggy subsequently will proceed to collaborate with David Bowie again, but don’t count on that.)
Anyway, great news: Ready to Die is better than anyone could rationally expect. Williamson makes a potent accomplice as co-writer and producer — dig the sharp, punchy sound — and unleashes a barrage of nicely spiky electric riffs, as well as some surprisingly tender acoustic licks. And if the snarling fills that open leadoff track “Burn” consciously strive to echo “Search and Destroy,” Williamson manages to pull it off with brutal flair.
Philosopher Iggy remains the main attraction, of course. Out of control in the early ’70s but fully in command today, he embodies, as ever, the twin impulses governing the fully lived life, loftily pondering the meaning of existence even as he seeks answers in primal pleasures. Ready to Die weighs the complications of aging and celebrity in the somber “Unfriendly World,” where he murmurs, “Fame and fortune made me sick,” and wonders, “Is this worth this pain to grow?” The answer: “I guess I’ll never know.” Elsewhere, he encounters the “Goddess of Beauty” in “Burn” and muses on the implications of baser desires in the frantic “Sex and Money,” then slyly deflates his own pretentions with the self-mocking aside, “It’s a problem to be so wise.” Sometimes, his unfiltered honesty reveals its limitations, though, on the cringe-worthy “DD’s,” where he flaunts his breast obsession to a driving R&B groove.
Still, the closing melancholy ballad “The Departed” provides as moving an essay on mortality as you’ll find anywhere in pop. In full crooner mode, having absorbed the lessons of Sinatra at his most vulnerable, Iggy intones, “Where is the life we started?” before admitting, “By the end of the game / We all get thrown under the bus.” But however gloomy the subject matter, Ready to Die is a weirdly exhilarating gem, thanks to Iggy’s fiery eloquence and the Stooges’ still-raw power. Apparently rock’n’roll can be an old man’s game after all.