Iggy Pop’s lyrics have always been pretty dumb, but they can be iconic and dumb, like the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” or that commercial from the ‘70s with the crying Indian. Besides, when you’re gouging yourself with bottles, smearing peanut butter all over your chest, or soliciting—and receiving—blowjobs from the audience, who cares if you’re not Auden? But if the lyrics on The Weirdness, Iggy’s first record with Ron and Scott Asheton as The Stooges in over 30 years, are at all memorable, it isn’t because of their ferociousness or their similarity to the songs on Raw Power or Fun House (though that’s clearly the goal). The lyrics on The Weirdness are just extraordinarily, unbelievably dumb. “My idea of fun is killing everyone.” “My dick is turning into a tree.” “Maybe I should swallow a little pill/Maybe I should go see Dr. Phil.” Every line sounds like a talentless wordsmith trying too hard, or a talented one not trying at all. Of course, between cracks like “Rock critics wouldn’t like this at all” on the opener “Trollin’” to the numerous references to how wealthy he is (“ATM,” “Greedy Awful People”), Iggy may be laying on some second level of the self-reflexive, aged wisdom that comes from being 60 years old: it’s all so smart, it just sounds dumb!
But one never turns to a guy who wears a dog collar while singing “I Want To Be Your Dog” for ironic distance between a song’s narrative speaker and its performer. The reason Iggy is the finest frontman in rock history isn’t just because his band invented punk rock: it’s because the man is conviction personified. Nobody else wore peanut butter so sincerely. So what’s fundamentally wrong with The Weirdness isn’t just that Iggy sounds tired—and Lord, does he ever sound tired—it’s that he doesn’t seem to mean any of the stuff he’s grumbling about.
None of the tunes on The Weirdness are bad, per se, though the John Mellencamp-esque chorus of “Free & Freaky” (“Free and freaky in the U.S.A.!”) is pretty cringe-worthy. The band coasts by on attitude as much as possible. First of all, Weirdness is Steve Albini’s best production since In Utero. Nobody can make cacophony clearer than Albini; on a couple of songs, you can actually hear the grates on the amps rattling against the speakers. Ron Asheton’s guitars are so full and noisy, the riffs and solos are indistinguishable from power chords—the best indication here that The Stooges can still summon the energy of their youth and capture it in the studio. Filling in for the late Dave Alexander, the Minutemen’s Mike Watt fills out the band with an impenetrable stomp. The rhythm section sounds like what you might have heard coming from that fabled Ann Arbor trailer park where James Osterberg became Iggy Pop.
Alas, Iggy should be the star of the show here, but he never commands our attention like before. He runs through the different vocal inflections of records past like he’s checking items off on a shopping list: Bowie-aping a la The Idiot on “Passing Cloud,” snarling nasally “Penetration”-style on “Free & Freaky,” and so on. It’s like somebody strapped a muzzle on the World’s Forgotten Boy and, consequently, The Weirdness never sounds like anything more than a competent but ultimately unremarkable band that sounds a little like The Stooges.