Kurt Cobain consistently called this the best hard rock album of all time. I’m starting to suspect he was right.
Well, yes and no.
It starts out just the way you’d expect an album called “Raw Power” to start: with a hard charging guitar riff, and one of the best opening lines in all of rock: “I’m a streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.” Iggy and the Stooges tear through “Search and Destroy” with a frightening intensity, but it is the second track that really sealed the album for me; there’s a delicacy here—and on “Penetration” and “I Need Somebody”—that is truly delightful. Yes, it’s raw and powerful, but it is also many other things besides; the musical texture is both consistent enough to be cohesive and varied enough to be interesting. The guitars go from smoky and slow to fast and furious, but Iggy’s a charismatic enough frontman to stay in front of it all; he’s growling feral dog one minute and a wailing banshee the next, and throughout it all, there’s an intensity and emotion and hook you in and keep you there.
That’s not just sharp musicianship; it’s sharp writing, too. Iggy’s not just out to just skewer easy targets, but to express complex truths, and to take a critical look at himself as well. “Hallucination, true romance, I needed love but I only dropped my pants,” he wails on “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.” Three tracks later, he moans, “I need some money, baby. I need somebody, too. I need somebody baby, just like you.” Lyrically (if not musically) it sounds like just another lost soul singing the blues; he grumbles about how “you bring me to the end,” but then—unlike so many others—he’s man enough to admit: “But still I don’t mind it!”
For whatever reason, it took me a long time to check this out, and like some of my favorite albums, I didn’t get into it right away. (As many reviewers elsewhere have commented, it is a rough, abrasive mix; I haven’t heard the Bowie version, and I’m very curious to compare the two. Still, that’s not a commentary on the idiosyncrasies of this master, but on the overall strength of the album. It’s an essential work, and essential works are not frozen in perfection but are instead the result of a long creative process involving multiple people; sometimes what emerges is a singular definitive version, but often one gets mixes and remixes and alternate takes, and critical opinion that doesn’t gel around any one version but instead settles into opposing camps.) As for me, I’ll get the Bowie version when it comes back out in April, but I’m not going to put this one away any time soon; it’s one of my go-to albums, particularly when I’m at work and I get some unexpected urgent task from the boss and need a little musical motivation to get me going. “Raw power got a healing hand, raw power can destroy a man,” Iggy raves on the title track, and he’s right on both counts.