Sunday, July 12, 2020

"Punk rock, rock & roll, attitude, intensity, ferocity"

Brian Eno famously said "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band." First hearing the Stooges' Fun House almost had the exact opposite effect on a young Henry Rollins - as he recalls in an article for Rolling Stone to mark the album's fiftieth birthday. When he finally got round to listening to the LP after much insistence from Black Flag bandmate Chuck Dukowski, he couldn't comprehend the context of its creation: "I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor and trying to figure out why I was even going to try and be in a band."

Rollins' attempt to put the experience into words is fantastic: "It's like discovering carbon. It's like the first time you go, 'What's that?' 'It's called rain.' 'What's this?' 'Water, drink it.' You come upon a truth that's so large ... It was like someone hit me with a pickup truck."

Personally, I'll always have a very soft spot for the Stooges' debut, because that was how I first encountered them, but Rollins is right that it's the sound of "a young blues band who can kind of mam out when they have to". Fun House is in a different league - not least because of the involvement of saxophonist Steve Mackay, who supplies the "greasy lightning" that means "the whole thing goes bonkers".

Rollins may not initially have been able to give any thought to the way the record was made, but he certainly had to in the course of compiling the liner notes for the remarkable new super-deluxe reissue that consists of 15 LPs and two seven-inches. Overkill, perhaps? On the contrary, he insists that it reveals a band at the absolute top of their game in single-minded pursuit of rough-hewn perfection, hammering through the tracks to get the best take without any studio trickery.

Meanwhile, rock critic Simon Reynolds has also been writing about Fun House, and about the journey Iggy Pop took thereafter. He flags up the fact that the album - "inarticulate blurts of lust and unrest blasted out in rampaging noise at once primitive and avant-garde" - was totally out of sync with the prevailing trends and mood and so was actually far from well received upon its release. Hats off to the British writer who dismissed it as "a muddy load of sluggish, unimaginative rubbish heavily disguised by electricity". History has proven otherwise.

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