The Return of James Williamson

by Ken Gibb

I am unreconstructed when it comes to music. I have band obsessions (Teenage fan club; Black keys; Queens of the stone age; Tame impala – but also Van Morrison, Mark Lanegan, Richard Hawley, Barry Adamson and, ahem, Rumer). You don’t need to be consistent with music you like – I certainly am not. Because we are hard-wired to music emotionally, we can respond strongly and irrationally to new music by old favourites. I was really undone by Bowie’s unexpected return and the wonderful ballad revisiting Berlin (Where are we now?).

Perhaps my most unreconstructed irrational tie is to Iggy Pop, a product of listening to John Peel in the late 1970s. My first Iggy experience was, decades before Trainspotting, hearing those drums at the beginning of ‘lust for life’ and I was pretty much hooked thereafter. Iggy has always to me been consistently inconsistent – brilliant, barbarous, capable of incredible quiet genius but also some truly terrible moments of turgidity. He is famous for the early Stooges albums and of course his controlled moments with Bowie in the 1970s and 1980s (although I always liked the crazy live album ‘TV Eye Live’ the most from that time). Recently he has made two partly French language concept albums which echo the earlier mellow Avenue B – they are actually really good (honestly). Against this intellectual Iggy there is also the monster – one or two grungy tuneless albums and the Stooges reunion album (the Weirdness). Sadly Ron Ashton of the original band died recently and that seemed to put paid to touring and recording by the Stooges. And then James Williamson returned.

In my humble opinion, the very finest moments of the Ig’s oeuvre concern Raw Power, Kill City and New Values – the three albums made with guitarist, writer, arranger and producer James Williamson. He has a quite distinct guitar technique and an ear for melody that I don’t think is always so apparent in his musical partner. They fell out spectacularly around 1980 and Williamson sunk into a kind of cult obscurity (though I note that with media like Spotify you can readily trace down his post-Pop work). And then he returned and Iggy and the Stooges have a new album (‘Ready to Die’). It is an iron rule that All Iggy Pop albums are patchy and this is no exception. But there are some truly great retro moments, excellent tunes like ‘Gun’ and ‘Dirty Deal’ and, of course, guitar of a form you just don’t hear any more (not since Kill City anyway). It is instantly recognizable as a Williamson/Pop collaboration and the world is a better place for it. Welcome back.

What a great start to the weekend. And I almost got away with not mentioning the car insurance adverts.