The Sound and the Fury: “Funhouse” at 50

To mark the Stooges’ second album 50th anniversary, Rhino reissues the record with a deluxe edition spanning 15 LPS.

Half a century after its release, the Stooges’ Funhouse still retains its intoxicating power. Largely ignored when it came out, over the years, the album has attracted new enthusiasts, drawn to its reckless primal fury. Listening to Funhouse feels as if all the machinery from Detroit’s factories (the band’s native town) are simultaneously pounding in your head. If Black Sabbath caught the mood of industrial Birmingham in their music, The Stooges transferred the Motor City’s raw energy into theirs.

While sounding obscure to their contemporaries, the band became influential for the future punk generation; however, on tracks like Down On The Street, Loose and T.V. Eye the Stooges are closer to hardcore groups like Black Flag than to the Sex Pistols. On a song like Dirt, one can hear the impact on contemporary bands such as The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, their music strongly indebted to The Stooges. On the liner notes of the Funhouse reissue, Karen O writes: “Dirt taught me how pain and pleasure are best consumed raw. It’s where I learned seduction and destruction are a magical combo and tried it out on stage”.

The following song, 1970, could be interpreted a sequel of the track 1969, which opened the band’s eponymous debut album. If on 1969 the scene was quite grim, the lyrics depicting generational ennui, on 1970 things don’t look too good either: Iggy claims to be “out of his mind on a Saturday night”, asking for someone to “burn his heart all night, until he blows away”. That final “I feel alright”, screamed over the sound of a creaking saxophone, is as reassuring as a gun pointed straight at you.

Songs such as the title-track, belong somewhere undetermined, not enclosed to a specific musical genre: it’s the Stooges’ sound, nobody has played like this before and no one ever will – Ron Asheton’s guitar penetrating your head, while Scott Asheton’s drumming grows more hypnotic with every song. Even Iggy on his solo records doesn’t dare to venture into such poisonous landscapes; he’s more melodic, approachable; he needed the rest of the band to pull out the hysteric vocals heard on Funhouse.

If during his later career Iggy has gradually become a refined performer, while fronting The Stooges, he antagonised the audience. In a piece about Neil Young, rock journalist Nick Kent explains how the songwriter made everyone agree, from the art-rock crowd to the old beer-drinking guys; with the Stooges, it was the exact opposite. Iggy’s band attracted nobody. “No one was impressed, not at all” he sings on Dum Dum Boys, a track from 1976 The Idiot, where Iggy recalls the story of the group.

The Stooges didn’t pretend to be the band they were not; they alienated themselves from the public, not only during their live performances but with their songs too. The closing track on this record, L.A. Blues, is an over the edge piece that would terrify even the man who sold the soul to the devil, Robert Johnson. It takes guts to record a song like L.A. Blues, let alone making it the end of the album. Lester Bangs writes about it: “I’ve heard many similar freakouts on both rock and jazz album, and this one beats all those from other rock bands and most of the jazz”. It’s a hell of a way to shut the curtain.

After Funhouse, The Stooges moved to London, changed their line-up and made a more accessible record, Raw Power, produced by none other than David Bowie. It was supposed to be their stairway to stardom, but the goddess of success and The Stooges never encountered: the band split in 1974.

Iggy embarked on a solo career that famously took him to Berlin with Bowie, and that continues to this day, having released his latest album in 2019. The Stooges reunited in the 2000s, finally gaining the recognition they have always deserved; after almost two decades of touring, they ultimately disbanded in 2016.

Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander embodied the spirit of rock & roll in its purest form, firmly believing in the saying “I hope I’ll die before I get old”. The Stooges were like a flame, burning intensely for a brief time, leaving a mark on everyone who touched it.