Like the album that the Velvets almost made before Loaded, or the set that Hendrix was working on at the time of his death, the fourth Stooges album is one of those legends that we never hear the end of. And neither should we. Hanging in rock mythology like a magnificent predatory bat, its contents as debatable as they would undoubtedly have been delirious, we are talking about an album whose contents weren't simply derailed by timing or tragedy; or even eschewed by the record label. We are talking songs that were effectively blackballed by everybody who came into contact with them.
Poised, historically, between Raw Power and what became Kill City, a wealth of material has surfaced over the years that might have made it onto the album - rehearsal and demo takes, live cuts from the band’s 1973-74 touring. Fragments and fractions, for the most part, sub sonic rumblings from whichever trough of despair we like to think the Stooges had blundered into most recently. Image is a powerful deceiver, after all.
But never have we heard it like this - properly recorded, genuinely arranged, and performed not by the Stooges, or even Iggy Pop, but by guitarist and co-writer James Williamson... plus present-day Stooges band members Steve Mackay, Mike Watt and drummer Toby Dammit... plus a positive bucketful of guests.
In strict chronological terms, there is some overlap. Songs recorded early in the band’s 1972 reformation, “I Got A Right,” “Gimme Some Skin” and “Sick of You,” reappear despite the Stooges’ own pre-Raw Power takes having circulated since 1977. “Scene of the Crime,” meanwhile, slips back from the themselves-disordered, but ultimately salvaged Kill City sessions. Whose own contents snatched away a few more of the songs that might have made it onto that album - the yearning "Johanna" most of all.
The lion’s share of Re-Licked, however... ten of its sixteen tracks total... effectively recreates what could and should have been the Stooges' second Columbia album, at the same time - and this is the important part - as liberating the songs’ reputation from the concert environment.
From Metallic KO through Bomp’s entire Iguana Chronicles series, and onto Easy Action’s own action-packed exhumation of this era, we have created a vision of these songs.. “Cock In My Pocket,” “”Pinpoint Eyes,” “Wild Love,” “Rubber Leg,” “Heavy Liquid,” “Wet My Bed”... that paints them as the very last stop on the dissolution railroad; teetering gutter-rock poised to swan dive into its own sonic excrement. Play side two of Metallic KO for further details (and mourn, while you do so, Williamson’s decision not to tackle “Rich Bitch,” the true lost love song of the glam degeneration, on Re-Licked).
Re-Licked disvows all of that.
Some of the reworkings serve up what you’d expect, and are as great as they ought to be, too. Jello Biafra makes a yelping fist of “Head On The Curve”; Bobby Gillespie takes on “Scene of the Crime” and you see where a lot of Primal Scream came from. (The bits that don’t sound like Exile on Main Street, that is.) Mark Lanegan and Alison Mosshart wrap up “Wild Love” with riotously propulsive aplomb; JG Thirlwell gives “Rubber Leg” a suitable pounding. Nicke Andersson's "Cock In My Pocket" (one of two versions included) is so deliciously enunciated that you will not want to play it at work. Probably. And the Richmond Sluts make "Wet My Bed" sound like classic Wayne County, and that is always a good thing.
But the real winners are the left field choices. Ariel Pink transforms the always-under-rated “She Creature of the Hollywood Hills” into a breathless slice of garage jazz fusion; Alison Mosshart’s “‘Til The End of the Night” is vividly chilled torch - not the band's first bona fide ballad (that was probably "Gimme Danger"), but their first to sound like one.
Mario Cuomo’s “I’m Sick Of You” ain’t no patch on the Stooges’ prototype, but Williamson’s revision adds Question Mark keyboards to the old Yardbirds riff, and rebuilds the Doors in Iggy’s own image; and Joe Cardamone concocts such a beautifully swaggering "Pinpoint Eyes" that you can almost hear the original Stooges cheering him on from their bar stools.
Best of all, though... Lisa Kekaula’s “I Gotta Right” actually makes the Stooges’ original sound like a pantywaist, so coiled and tense is its every moment; while Carolyn Wonderland first mines every last drop of the primal blues menace that “Open Up and Bleed” ever packed, and then blurs “Gimme Some Skin” beneath an even more sinister sheen. Is it churlish to wish that Williamson had recorded the entire album with the pair of them? Probably, cos we’d miss a lot of other great stuff. But if there’s any extra out-takes, Kekaula and Wonderland giving other cuts the runaround.... gimme!
We will never lose our fascination with this era of the Stooges, just like we never lost it for the lost Velvets album, or the last Jimi disc. Indeed, the former has just been recreated once again as part of the latest Velvets box set, and the latter has been engaging great minds almost since Hendrix's death. You could probably throw the Beach Boys' Smile into the same sack. (Although I'd rather you didn't. Yawn.)
The difference is, those albums can be recast, because their component parts at least exist in a form not far from genuinely releasable. It's only the ultimate track election that eludes the conscientious archivist.
The Stooges, on the other hand... we can toy with the live tapes as much as we like, and debate too whether they'd have ever taken their so-personalized version of "Louie Louie" into the studio. But this is as close as we might ever get to knowing really what they'd do, and how it might have sounded. And the fact we had to wait FORTY F%$&ING YEARS to find out just goes to show one thing.
Contrary to the song, Jesus probably didn't love the Stooges.