Raw Power

It Is What It Is

liner notes for the AuGoGo records re-release of Iggy & The Stooges' Raw Power, 1988

1973. We can only be talking about one thing - Glam. Anglo, Trans Atlantic, it doesn't matter. If it wasn't glam it was either West Coast Rock or Symphonic Rock. The book of Glam hasn't been written yet - which is pretty amazing considering that Glam is the definitive epoch for everything that has mattered in the eighties. Like Iggy's Raw Power.

Yes - Glam ; not the Detroit sound. I'm not talking denim and dirt - I'm talking all that glitters. You see 1972/74 marks the peak period of Glam, not only because of what was happening (Bowie, Sweet, Gary Glitter, T Rex, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, et al) put because of what was being uncovered. Things like Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop & The Stooges.

The great myth of the Velvet Underground probably didn't need Glam to put it back in vogue in the early seventies, but Glam's dark side found most of its imagery prefabricated in the Velvet's neo gothic, proto nihilistic, pseudo decadent lyrical imaging and musical evocation. If you think I'm making the Velvet Underground sound contrived, you're right : they were. Capital 'A' arty. That's what attracted Glam to them in the first place. Reed's resurrection during this period is well known. Just about every album he's made since Transformer (1972) is a painfully cynical yet poetic rejection of his ponderings and posturings in the Velvet Underground. Reed wasn't just the aesthetic corpse waxing lyrical on smack he was a necrophile with a love-hate fix on his own mythical image. And Glam was responsible for the myth being reborn.

The Velvet Underground's rebirth - image and lyric wise, at least - is marked on Transformer. This album is also acknowledged as being Bowie's 'saving' of Reed, getting him out of the underground and into the mainstream through his (and Mick Ronson's) quintessentially Glam production on the album. The title presumably referred to Reed's transvestite predilections. It could just as easily have referred to Bowie. That album is Lou Reed transformed - glam-erized. Reed got a kink out of selling his soul to Glam, but when his next album Berlin (1973) was canned and panned - presumably too low on the camp factor for the Glam cult - Reed turned sour. He wouldn't fully redeem himself in his own eyes until, the cathartic, polemical release of Metal Machine Music (1975) which is essentially Reed returning into the sonic maelstrom of the Velvet Underground and exorcising himself of Glam, Bowie, Mainman and RCA all at once.

Bowie had written a song a few years earlier on his 'hard rock' album The Man Who Sold The World (1971) called The Saviour Machine. What prophetic titles. And with the self enveloping, mytho megalomaniac scenario of The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars (1972) he was on a roll. After Transformer, that 'saviour machine' went corporate and developed into Mainman Enterprises, set up by lawyer Tony DeFries and Bowie. The name 'Mainman' salaciously suggested smack, but in reality it pushed Glam. It was the ultimate Glam machine, producing and nurturing (or saving and transforming) acts like Mott The Hoople (All The Young Dudes, 1972), Jobriath (Jobriath, 1973), Mick Ronson (Slaughter On 10th Avenue, 1974), Dana Gillespie (Weren't Born A Man, 1974) and even LuLu (the single The Man Who Sold The World/Watch That Man, 1974). Oh yes, and Iggy Pop.

Bowie didn't produce Raw Power (1973). But perhaps he produced Iggy or at least reproduced him. Trace Bowie's career and you'll trace a lot of these mergers and collaborations. The guy - in his heyday - always had his finger on every pulse going. Just as he picked up on the pulsing of Reed's veins, he picked up on the pounding of Iggy's body. Iggy was ripe for saving in true Mainman style. If Reed was the razor edge of Glam, Iggy was to be its shattered glass. And Raw Power is shattered glass. It's pure noise compared to everything else Mainman and/or Bowie touched. This is not to say that it is anti Glam. Far from it. Iggy's presence - his body, his movement, his variety of vocal screechings, his acid-punk beatnik one liners - is not just mindless energy. It's style as well. Not as effete as the stylings from London art colleges or Boston English departments, but incredibly stylized and stylistic all the same.

Iggy and The Stooges might not get space in Rock histories which list the members of Fleetwood Mac, but their critical place has always been assured - from the Velvet Underground's John Cale producing their first album in 1969 to rock critic Lester Bangs dropping their name whenever he could. Bowie's groundwork was clearly laid out for him in 'saving' Iggy. Furthermore, that groundwork always held The Stooges in an arty light - that special kind of light where intellectuals herald the real and the definitive in rock'n'roll. The point is that The Stooges were 'real rock'n'roll' only to arty types. The real rockheads took them as a joke (check the grins on the audience in photos from their 'seminal' performances) and preferred the 'reality' of Iron Butterfly's "In A Gadda Da Vida" (who were just as contrived as the next band, anyway).

Bowie mixed Raw Power. He didn't produce it. Iggy presumably did all that - arranging it, structuring it, giving it its wall-of-noise sound. But the mix is like the final wash and rinse. It's what determines the ultimate outcome (as opposed to the production, which is like the conceptualization and formation of the sound). And let's face it: it's probably one of the most savage final mixes committed to record. Sheets and shivers of guitar fuzz all clashing into one another; erratic volume bursts and jumps; assorted sonic explosions and tone effects; desecrated drums - hang on - that description sounds like ... the first two Velvet Underground albums. Was Bowie conducting a bit of V.U. appreciation here? Was he trying to loop back Iggy through the Cale connection to cement the Velvet Underground's status as the original noise stylists of whom The Stooges were the 'sonic sons'?

Who knows. And who knows exactly what happened during the recording of Raw Power once you try to decipher cryptic credits like "produced by Iggy Pop for Mainman" and sift through stories like Bowie controlling the whole show; Iggy being so out of it Bowie was forced to bring it together to save face for Mainman in front of CBS ; Iggy disliking Bowie's final mix; etc. But we do have the album left as it is - and its similarity in sound to The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) and White Light/White Heat (1968) is uncanny. Furthermore, the sound of Raw Power isn't that far removed from Reed's own return to the Velvet's wall of noise on his own Metal Machine Music. Raw Power in a sense initiated such a return to noise, such a confusion of sound. Gone is the clarity of Cale's production on The Stooges (1969) and gone is the solidness of Funhouse (1970). Equally absent are all the camp musical flourishes of the Bowie/Ronson/Visconti stylings. It somehow lacks everything it ought to have.

And that's one of its beauties : it sets itself up to be classic Glam, only to smash such expectations. Hold the covers of Transformer and Raw Power together : two rock'n'roll animals in mascara. Two proto-Glam figureheads reclaimed by the godhead of Glam : Bowie. And listen to those albums - one the rebirth of a rock myth, the other the living-death of such Myths. Raw Power despite its title is the sound of Iggy's death drive. Reed used words to flaunt his death wish ; Iggy used sound. Perhaps that's the difference between a death wish and a death drive. Perhaps that's why Ray Manzarek was so keen to have Iggy replace Jim Morrison in the new Doors - not for the Ig's liveliness, but for his deadly appeal.

Raw Power isn't The Stooges, with their tightly knotted compound of fuzz guitars striking and stroking to a steady beat, that streamlined Detroit Sound. This album is Iggy - pushed up front - by Bowie, like a contortionist screaming at his audience ; bursting, exploding his body and then diving into them. Bursting, exploding his voice out of the speakers into your ears. It's all in the mix : Raw Power is the breakdown of the Detroit sound, just as Transformer is the transformation of the Velvet's sound. It's the sound of raw power, of the peculiar negative energy which drives Iggy Pop - an energy which isn't made positive again until four years later with the opening garage-drums-boom of the title track from the Pop/Bowie collaboration Lust For Life (1977).

While Iggy with The Stooges has a frighteningly undeniable appeal, that other Iggy - the Glam Iggy, friend of Ziggy should not be denied. For this is the Iggy whose gambles and changes mark the Detroit sound as a phase more than a legacy ; a style rather than a state. The Iguana picked up tricks from the Chameleon, and has since generated a series of changes of which Raw Power is the first and most important. As the scientific edict goes, power and energy are indestructible, only transformable. Iggy Pop's power and energy is fully present in the state it's in on Raw Power. It is what it is - raw power.

Text © Philip Brophy. Image © Iggy Pop / Mick Rock.