By Christopher Nosnibor
The biographical details have more or less passed into legend now: James Williamson was recruited by The Stooges towards the end of 1970 as a second guitarist, but their seminal 1973 release, Raw Power cemented Williamson’s reputation as an integral member of one of the defining bands of the 20th century. The simple fact is that it’s impossible to overstate the significance of The Stooges in terms of the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll. Not to denigrate The Beatles or the Stones, or Bowie, but as we all know, the chameleon-like Bowie latched onto Iggy and The Stooges and identified them as the band that defined the essence of cool. It wasn’t all about Iggy, either: The Stooges were truly a unit, a band.
But for all that, Williamson has maintained an understated position. For that, respect is very much due. Re-Licked provides further evidence of the case in point.
Again, to provide some context: after the release of that pivotal album, Iggy and Williamson began work on a follow-up. Those tracks, although finding their way onto bootleg recordings over the years, were never officially released. Until now.
It would have been so easy for either artist – Iggy’s recent commentary on the state of his income despite being a living legend, and Williamson simply because he wrote the music for the songs – to have got some label to bung out an album containing these demos. The fans would have snapped it up as a bona fide historical document, and debate would have raged amongst fans and critics over what might have been had definitive studio versions ever been committed to tape.
But no. Their refusal to cash in is admirable, and what we have instead is something that is fresh and innovative and equally admirable, in that Re-Licked shows James Williamson to be an artist who has no desire to dine out on his glory days, but instead continue to push himself and to look forward even when revisiting the past.
So, Re-Licked contains brand new versions of the songs – initially written and demoed in 1973/74 – which have been completely recorded, with Williamson enlisting a wide range of guests to help out, including Jello Biafra, Mark Lanegan, Alison Mosshart, Ariel Pink, The Orwell’s Mario Cuomo, The BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, The Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone and Carolyn Wonderland. Not all of the most obvious choices, which is gratifying; we don’t need Bono or the dude from The Strokes trying to emulate Iggy and recreate the originals but without the juice. Instead, Williamson has brought in an interesting selection of artists to whom the songs actually mean something.
And yes, the songs sound great. Truly awesome. It kicks off with the driving blues-based riffage of ‘Head on the Curve,’ which finds Jello yelling ‘motherfuckers!’ repeatedly over a lively piano. ‘Open Up and Bleed’ gets a belting soul treatment thanks to Carolyn Wonderland’s gutsy vocals, and its unexpectedness only adds to its not-so-raw power. Weirdly ‘Scene of the Crime’ actually sounds more like Primal Scream than The Stooges. It’s not just the fact Bobby Gillespie’s on it, either. ‘She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills’ packs a swampy groove and a riotous sax solo. Mark Lanegan and Alison Mosshart are distinctive and compelling vocalists in their own right, and so coupling them on the gritty r’n’b of ‘Wild Love’ proves to be a stroke of genius. It’s an album that’s crammed with highlights, among which the sleazy blues of ‘Pinpoint Eyes’ finds Joe Cardamone – who’s clearly spent a long time studying Iggy’s work and moves – giving it his best.
The bonus tracks are very much bonuses, and while there are some duplications in the tracks, no-one’s going to grumble at the Gary Floyd version of ‘Cock in my Pocket’ which perfectly captures the raucous energy of the 1973 demo. And as anyone familiar with his work will know, anything JG Thirlwell touches is gold, and his appearance on the album’s last track, a second version of ‘Rubber Leg’ is no exception.
What makes Re-Licked truly special is that the songs have all been given very different treatments, from their original rough versions, and from one another. The execution of the tracks are wildly varied, and if some are more successful than others… so what? It’s all about interpretation and the exploration of their potential rather than simply going through the motions with some oh-so-reverent tribute. And because of this, the spirit of the songs shines through, the energy shines through with passion and exuberance, illustrating precisely why The Stooges stand as not just a significant band historically, but a band who are vital and relevant today.
Re-Licked, but not merely re-hashed or re-heated.
Re-Licked is released by Leopard Lady Records