The Weirdness Virgin
Music ••••½ Sound ••••½

Granted, it's not often that the names Iggy Pop and John Mellencamp enter my ever-addled consciousness together. Still, right in the middle of The Weirdness, the first (can't believe I'm using this word in an Iggy review) formal new Stooges collection in almost 35 years, there's a neat little tune called "Free & Freaky," whose shout-it-out-loud chorus - "Free and freaky in the U.S.A." - is lifted lock, stock, and (beer) barrel right out of Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."

On purpose? Well, maybe not. But after all the public handwringing that Johnny Heartland went through trying to convince everyone that he really wasn't selling out by letting "Our Country" be used to equate patriotism with buying a Chevy pickup, it is rather instructive to hear everlovin' Iggy Pop singing the praises of the ol' red, white, and blue with lyrics befitting the runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb: "My sister went to war, she had a guy up on a leash / I think about it sometimes while I'm sittin' on the beach / I hate it when people look at me the wrong way / Free and freaky in the U.S.A." And it's likewise pretty safe to say that not too many other "commercial" artists would venture into the MySpace land of another track here, "My Idea of Fun," wherein the Ig posits that "Now is the season for war with no reason / ... So my idea of fun is killing everyone."

Put that in your Royal Caribbean Cruises ad.

There is no doubt a certain symmetry to the fact that the last time Iggy and fellow founding Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton released an album together (1973's Raw Power), America was mired in an unpopular war and grappling with its identity in the world. Back then, of course, the Stooges were an unpopular band also grappling with their identity in the world: snot-nosed punks whose search-and-destroy noisefests flew in the face of everything that was at the time deemed "good" music. And while they may have lost that battle (the original band broke up in 1974), history has certainly long held that they won the war. And damned if this terrific reunion CD doesn't confirm it altogether.

Lots of other stuff confirmed here, too. Like knowing that Iggy has thankfully lost little of his singularly cracked sense of humor, which, in its best moments (the Stooges' 1969 debut, his ever-underrated 1990 solo gem Brick by Brick), has always tempered his hellhounded side. Take the aforementioned "Free & Freaky," which devotes a verse to present-day America's great friends in the land of "freedom fries": "Even in France, whose cultures are old / The cheese is stinky and the beer ain't cold / When I go over there, I gotta walk bold." Or "I'm Fried," wherein Iggy summarizes brain-cell destruction with but a few deft strokes of the poisoned pen: "Deep-fried / Re-fried / Stir-fried / I'm fried." And speaking of confirmation, there's a drooling paean to testosterone-fueled lust fulfillment titled - what else? - "The End of Christianity."

And while we're here, a few words about Ron Asheton, one of the truly great unsung guitar heroes of rock & roll. Hard to say what's more impressive: the steamrolling rhythm work that grounds nearly every song here with chord-riffing sonic overdrive, or his ear-canal-flooding, gut-eviscerating leads on songs like "She Took My Money," "The End of Christianity," and the title track. (Suffice it to say that his wah-wah pedal to the metal is the aural definition of the fine line between pleasure and pain.) Brother Scott on drums ain't no slouch, either; just try thinking straight after being bashed upside your head by his Bo-Diddley-beat-on-acid tubthumps on "Mexican Guy." Add the solid work of ex-Minuteman bassist Mike Watt and secret-weapon sax player Steve Mackay, and you've got Mr. Pop and his well-oiled Stooges mean-machine cruising blissfully out of control down the proverbial rock & roll highway to hell.

To summarize, then: Not bad for a bunch of old farts.

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