Ready To Die is the unlikely follow-up to the Stooges’ much maligned 2007 album, The Weirdness, and the first recorded under the Stooges banner since the untimely death of guitarist Ron Asheton in 2009. The album takes on a more playful and care-free tone than The Weirdness and the palpable lack of menace here feels more like the result of stylistic choices than non-consensual neutering. But while it shouldn’t come as a great surprise to hear Iggy Pop mellowed out and nonchalant – his last few solo projects have seen him play lounge singer, recording low-key covers albums and jazz paeans – it’s hard to ignore the pang of disappointment that comes with finding him toning things down in the Stooges as well.
The Stooges were perhaps the most volatile, dangerous band of the late 60s and early 70s, their shows punctuated by bloodletting violence and psychotic stage-diving as the group tore through some of the most incendiary proto-punk songs of their generation with wild-eyed, reckless abandon. The Stooges were the band in which Iggy Pop carved out his identity as a punk-rock live-wire and a legend in his own time. The aptly titled Ready To Die feels like the 66-year old James Osterberg calling time on the most abrasive carnation of the Iggy Pop persona and making preparations to ease into old age without being bound by the expectations which are by now inextricably linked with being a Stooge.
Ready To Die features not one, but three acoustic numbers (a first for a Stooges album), with the second of which (“Beat That Guy”) actually not being terrible. The song finds Iggy crooning over Tom Petty-esque acoustic strumming as it builds in scope to accommodate an electric guitar solo and a smattering of female backing singers. Album closer “The Departed” meanwhile, employs martial drums, slide guitar and Tom Waits-styled vocal; and “Unfriendly World” features washboard percussion and lyrical misanthropy. These acoustic songs ultimately feel misplaced and disrupt the flow of an album largely consisting of garage rock songs, but might have been better suited to another low-key Iggy Pop solo album.
Album opener “Burn” fares much better, showcasing James Williamson’s fiery fretwork and raucous guitar tone, laced with Iggy Pop’s caustic vocal. The song is the closest Ready To Die comes to recreating the alchemy of the band’s unpredictable live shows. Album highlight “Sex and Money” snakes around an energetic rhythm, infused with jovial blasts of Steve Mackaye’s sax. “I Got a Job” is notable only for its lyrics, which are apropos of the album’s overarching theme (intended or not): “I got a job/ but it don’t pay shit/ I got a job/ and I’m sick of it”. “Gun” half-heartedly attempts to illicit shock with its lyrical subject (“If I had a fucking gun/ I could shoot at everyone”) but comes off as more of an idle threat than shocking declaration. The bass line from “DD’s” is reminiscent of the Blues Brothers, while title track, “Ready To Die” is pleasingly reminiscent of Funhouse-era Stooges with its sneering vocals, death-trip fantasies, sleazy rhythm and unhinged, free-falling guitar.
Ready To Die is ultimately the sound of a band fully aware of its advancing age and the limitations imposed on them by no longer being twenty-two. It’s an album that sounds like it could well be the Stooges’ last and an album that – despite housing a few quality songs – never comes close to the quality of the bands’ initial 1967-1973 run. It’s the sound of a band that, after over fourty years of successes and failures and deaths and the cultivation of an undying legacy, is finally ready to move on.