Skull Ring

Artist: Iggy Pop
Label: Virgin
Release Year: 2003

Iggy Pop has been touring Australia for years but much to my shame I had never caught a show. Of course, the friends of mine that had, regaled me with tails of legendary shows where Iggy would – well put simply, do Iggy Pop things – whether that be open him self up, dive into the crowd or get naked. But I missed his shows every time. It would appear, according to Alvin Gibbs, formerly of the U.K. Subs, and one time member of Iggy Pop’s support band, that Iggy’s 1989 tour of Australia and New Zealand – as support to Jimmy Barnes on his Barnestorming tour – was quite a series of shows.

Before I go any further, for those unfamiliar with Jimmy Barnes, he was the lead singer of one of Australia’s leading bands Cold Chisel – and if trivia fact sheets are to be believe then Chisel’s song Khe-San is the most highly played jukebox song in the U.K. despite the fact that it was never released as a single. I presume drunken ex-pat Aussies must rule the U.K. jukebox playlists. Anyway after Chisel called it a day (well I say that loosely as I believe they are reforming for a series of concerts this summer), Barnesy went solo. His first few albums were okay, but I must admit by the Barnestorming stage he had lost me, as his albums were over-produced and lost that earthy (or maybe honest) feel that the Chisel and early solo work had.

Anyway, according to Gibbs, in his book Neighbourhood Threat, on the New Zealand leg of the tour, Iggy had a go at one of the show’s sponsors (well, that’s putting it politely). You’ve got to remember this was at the time of what Billy Joel would call the ‘Rock ‘n’ Rolla Cola Wars’, and Barnsey’s tour was sponsored by Pepsi – the alleged choice of a New Generation. Iggy didn’t appreciate the Pepsi signage and chose to express himself in a way that only Iggy Pop could.

As Alvin Gibbs says (Neighbourhood Threat: On Tour With Iggy Pop. 2001 – Codex Publishing – revised edition) page 116-117.

Directly behind the amplifiers and kit hung a massive backdrop declaring: “Pepsi Cola – the voice of a new generation” in red and blue letters on a white canvas background. Furthermore, lapping around in the early evening breeze on both sides of the stage were two ten foot banners bearing the Pepsi trademark along with representations of king-sized cola cans. As we hammered into our first number, ‘TV Eye’, I could see the disgust that Iggy felt at having to perform on what was basically a soft drink commercial billboard. Now, we knew that Pepsi Cola were the sponsors for the two New Zealand festival shows because the Barnestorming tour itinerary had Pepsi presents, written all over it and their corporate symbol stamp on the cover. But what we hadn’t realised was that we were expected to perform and play our music with those fucking monstrous cans of soda at our shoulders and a stupid, presumptuous advertising slogan for a backdrop. None of that stuff had been present during the sound check. It must have been hauled up just before the first band was due to play by the devious cola stage-hands.

Iggy was far from happy. After bringing ‘TV Eye’ to an end he pointed up at one of the banner cans and screamed into his microphone, “See that? I’d rather drink my own piss than touch that vile shit.”

This appealed to the crowds innate sense of anarchy and they let out a roar of agreement as Iggy bullied and whipped us into a searing extraordinary performance of ‘Five Foot One’ which jumped and jolted like no version we had ever delivered before.

After each song of the set, Iggy had a new observation share with the audience about our sponsors.

“If those fuckers are the voice of a new generation, then I’m glad I’m a fuckin’ old fart!”

“Yeah, Iggy, you tell those corporate assholes what’s what,”the crowd seemed to be saying back in its own wild assed communal fashion. “We’re on your side, Iggy, man… Let them have it.”

The crowd’s approval of Iggy’s stance pushed him on to new heights.

“Those evil sons of bitches at fuckin’ Pepsi want to rot your guts and brains with their poisonous shit. They want to fill your veins full of their pus, filth and garbage, and turn you into non-thinking bloated fucking consumers. Well, fuck them! Fuck them! Fuck them…” Then he turned to us. “Okay, motherfuckers, give me ‘Search and Destroy’”, and pointing to the Pepsi backdrop, Iggy added, “’Cos that’s what I’m gonna do to the assholes who expect me to sing with that on my stage.”

Of course you can read more about Iggy’s exploits in Neighbourhood Threat, which is well worth the read – the passage about how Julio Iglesias disabled a tour bus had me laughing out loud.

Despite never having caught a Iggy Pop show, I still had managed to amass quite a bit of audio and video of Pop over the years – each piece almost providing a brief but insightful piece to the jigsaw puzzle that makes up Pop’s career. Most amazing – but hardly easy listening is Metallic K.O. Listen to that at volume (especially Rich Bitch) and then come back and tell me how hard the current crop of punk rockers are, eh? I am sure many books could be and have been written about Iggy and the destruction of The Stooges, so I wont be stupid (and express my ignorance) and talk about it here.

But The Stooges became a big part of my life. I wont bore you with the details, but I was going through a rough patch back a few years ago, and the first two albums (The Stooges and Funhouse) almost became a soundtrack for my life. Then a friend played me a new album, Skull Ring.

Immediately I was blown away. The selling point was that The Stooges had reformed and had played on a few tracks. That was enough to grab me by the balls, and have me proclaiming that this was the greatest fucking record of all time. In hindsight I can say that possibly The Trolls tracks (with Whitey Kirst and the band, who can been seen in the Kiss My Blood video) were better numbers.

Adding icing to the cake, Iggy and The Stooges were set to reform, and were about to tour Australia as a part of The Big Day Out. For International readers, let me explain that The Big Day Out is a music festival that tours around Australia (and New Zealand) in the summer with a massive lineup of talent. That years line up included not only Iggy, but the Beasts of Bourbon, Franz Ferdinand, the Mars Volta, and Henry Rollins doing one of his spoken word shows – and of course a swag of others, most of who I didn’t see.

Now let me explain why. The show starts at 11:00 am, so I met up with friends at around 10:00. As we hadn’t eaten, we decided to have a late breakfast to line our stomachs. A Good idea, and we chose a cafe in Chapel Street for this. We ate our breakfast, but as Chapel Street is lined with bars, we meandered towards the train station stopping at practically every bar. In fact, by lunchtime, we hadn’t left Chapel Street and were at a bar called Vokdka, Borsch and Tears. The fad at the time was to drink Green Fairies (for the un-initiated – a flaming Absinthe concoction), so rather than lunch, we had the girl mix up a few drinks for us. A part of the fun with fairies, was always having the attractive barmaid join you at your table and do the flaming and the mixing. Three hours later, we actually made it to the venue, and despite the copious amount of alcohol that had been consumed, were still in reasonable shape.

By 5:00 o’clock we were out front of Channel One Sound System with Mickey Dread. This sounds pompous, but at a event such as this I hate cool people and poseurs, and quite a few of them seemed to be gathered in front of Mickey Dread. The music was great, but there was a giant open space in front of the band. There were plenty of attractive girls grooving on the side, but no one was prepared to go out, relax and dance. Finally the group I was with stood up and went out, and you know what? Yep, everyone else got up and joined in, and started having a good time. Sorry at my age I am not the pace and style setter, and really do think some ‘cool’ people should stop worrying about how they look and just relax and do it. If it feels good, do it.

Now I don’t want you to think that we were those drunken few that get up too early and make fools of themselves. Readers who are in, or have been in a band, will know what I am talking about. There is always some drunk guy, who is first to the front at a gig, and stands there swaying and dancing on his own for fifteen or twenty minutes before security shuffles him out of the building. We weren’t these guys, after all the festival had been going for four hours before we got there and we had been there for another two after that. The crowd was already fairly well lubricated (or had indulged in their own favourite vice). They were just a bit stiff, as if they needed permission to have a good time. I admit it was a strange environment for such a large crowd.

After Channel One and Mickey Dread, we caught Rollins, The Beasts (who were brilliant) and then a bit of Franz. And then it was Iggy and The Stooges. They didn’t let the crowd down. As the sun went down, they launched into a set of songs from The Stooges and Funhouse (surprisingly no Raw Power or new stuff from Skull Ring). So that was the day, and a good one it was too.

After all my self indulgent rambling, you’re probably wondering about the album Skull Ring (after all it is the topic of this post). Well the album was released in 2003 and not only featured The Stooges and The Trolls, but also some of the young Turks of the punk scene, such as Sum 41, Green Day, and Peaches.

Track one, with the Stooges is Little Electric Chair, which is a straight ahead rocker with a grinding rythym. It’s great opener and immediately joins the list of great capital punishment songs, right up there with Nick Cave’s Mercy Seat (also about an electric chair), and Johnny Cash’s 25 Minutes to Go.

Little Electric Chair – Iggy with The Stooges. Uploaded to Youtube by ROCKS1484J

Next up is Perverts in the Sun, where Iggy is joined to The Trolls, and impossibly so, but this number is harder and faster than the opener. Relentless. Skull Ring, once again with The Stooges has a driving Peter Gunn-esque grind behind it, and lyrically, like Conan the Barbarian before him, Iggy extolls all that is good in life. And no, it’s not ‘crush your enemies and see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women’, but ‘Skull Rings, Fast Cars, Hot Chicks, Money’.

The tag team between The Stooges and Trolls continues on Superbabe and Loser. The Trolls add a suitably noisy, crunching rhythm track to Superbabe, but Iggy’s vocal has a distracting echo on it, making this the first mis-step on the album. Similarly on The Stooges backed Loser, the vocal styling distracts from a crunching musicianship underneath – and there’s a nice change in this song too.

Private Hell with Green Day is almost perfect pop. Almost. The song bounces along nicely – it’s just a pity that for some reason it reminds me of The Passenger. Iggy and Sum 41 bring the album back to the hard rocking power of the opening tracks with Little Know it All.

Here’s a clip for Private Hell uploaded by oleg15021976. I’m not sure what this has been mashed with but you’ve gotta love dancing skeletons (a bit more skullduggery).

And Little Know It All by Iggy and Sum 41 from Iggy Pop’s Youtube Channel.

Songs based on popular catchphrases of the moment are always going to date lyrically, and Whatever falls into that trap. Although musically, courtesy of The Trolls, it hits and locks into a suitably hard groove.

Iggy croons Dead Rock Star over an eclectic arrangement by The Stooges. It’s not really a musical marriage that works, and at times, the song sounds very 1980s – in a bad way. Rock Show by Iggy with Peaches is possibly the only song which I don’t like on the album. It sounds like a synthetic punk. In Here Comes the Summer Iggy reverts to the echoed vocal styling, such as Superbabe and Loser, and once again, it adds a layer of artificiality to a song that at best should be a bread and butter rocker. That mistake is rectified on Motor Inn with Feedom featuring Peaches.

Iggy and The Trolls serve up a bit of moody introspective rock with Inferiority Complex. The beat is a lot slower and the song feels more like a hard rock number from the 1970s, from a band like Black Sabbath. Green Day returns for Super Market which is the lyrical equivalent of the Alvin Gibbs Pepsi story as related above.

Iggy Pop as an old bluesman? I can dig it. So this this is Iggy by himself with a guitar – Til Wrong Feels Right. Strangely, although this is the simplest song on the album, as it is so stripped down, it feels authentic. It’s not overproduced, like a few of the tracks and as such, being so different, it becomes a standout track.

Iggy and The Trolls close the album out (or so the track listing would have you believe) with Blood On Your Cool, which is right up with the best of the hard rocking tracks on the album. There’s a hidden track flowing on from Blood On Your Cool, which I don’t know who it is (The Trolls?) or what it is called (Nervous Exhaustion?) But it keeps the energy up till the end.

The thing with Iggy Pop is that he has had a long and diverse career. Songs from Funhouse (such as Down On The Street) are very different from songs off New Values (such as Endless Sea). And both of those albums are very different from Blah Blah Blah. I could go on. Earlier I alluded to the career of Iggy Pop of somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle, and it really is. Each piece is different and fits into its own unique slot. Skull Ring, in someways, with the regrouping of The Stooges, represents a return to his past, but at the same time it is something different. The early Stooges albums had an anger and a healthy dose of youthful rebellion about them. Skull Ring doesn’t have that youthful swagger, but has an aging defiance to it. It says, ‘we may be old, be we can still play harder than the young pups!’ This is only amplified by the inclusion of the ‘new’ punks on the album. Each song is reminiscent of a better Iggy Pop song. Green Day’s Private Hell has enough echoes of The Passenger to make me want to stop the CD, and actually dig out a version of The Passenger.

The album is flawed. But despite any negativity implied above, this is still one of my favourite hard rock albums on the 21st Century. Sometimes you just need it ‘loud’!

October is the month of the Skeleton Suit! Or Skeletons, Skulls and Bones, and in a month long celebration, The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit is checking out the Skeletons in their closets.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Minions of M.O.S.S. check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page or the Twitter feed.

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Skull Ring

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