Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Stooges - Declaration of War

The Stooges
Declaration of War

Released 1999 on Rhino Handmade
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 23/08/2004ce

Don’t feel like wending your way through the mammoth, 8-hour, 7-disc Stooges: “The Complete Fun House Sessions” CD set? Then you might want to pick this up. Nearly as rare as the boxset itself, this vinyl-only release is a compilation put together by Rhino Handmade that distills the unwieldy amount of alternate takes down to a more palatable dish. To sweeten the deal, it also includes the only two unreleased tracks on the entire boxset: “Slidin’ the Blues” and “Lost in the Future.”

Special mention should also be made of the record’s cover. This is certainly the best cover a Stooges album has ever been graced with. Similar to the original for Fun House but more vibrant and edgy, it’s a perfect compliment to a near-perfect release.

These tracks provide probably the best presentation of a Stooges live show, circa 1970. Each Stooge gives his all, especially Iggy, who loses none of his enthusiasm throughout the proceedings. However, I wouldn’t say you could consider Declaration of War as an “alternate” version of the Fun House album. Instead, it’s more like finally being able to hear a decent-sounding, professionally-recorded live performance of said release. And it rocks, which is all that really matters.

After a bit of studio goofery in which Iggy, impersonating a retired boxer, introduces “Da Stooches,” Take 7 of “TV Eye” gets the ball rolling. Throughout the track you keep scratching your head over how “off” everything sounds. The band’s playing mostly the same notes, but things you recognize from the official release are either missing or in unexpected spots. The noticeable differences come from the Ig and Ron Asheton. For one, Iggy’s vocals are unfamiliar in spots, and his screams and shouts come in different places. But what doesn’t change is the massive “brother!” section, which has always been my favorite moment on the entire Fun House record. Likewise, Asheton’s guitar is mostly just rhythm, occasionally breaking off to play a rough lead. The fuzz practically drips off the chords. The sound quality on this record is fantastic, by the way.

Up next is Take 6 of “Down On the Street.” Again, the track is a bit rough, when compared to the completed version. Everything goes pretty much the same as the version we’re familiar with on the LP itself, except for another totally-unhinged Asheton solo, midway through. Also, Iggy actually throws in the line “down on the street” at the very end of the song. After this take of the song wraps up, the Stooges break into another, only for it to fall apart after a few beats.

“Loose” follows, and of the 32 takes the Stooges recorded during the Fun House sessions, only Take 1 is presented on this compilation. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the few were Iggy inserts the line “red hot weenie” into the lyrics; if he does, I haven’t caught it yet, at least. Of all the takes on this side of the record, this one sounds the roughest to me, but there’s no denying the punch in the grooves. The takes on Declaration of War sound more live and raw than their completed versions on Fun House, that’s for certain. But still, this take of “Loose” is a bit ragged.

Take 1 of “Dirt” is up next, opening with an amusing bit of studio chatter in which the Stooges are about to run through the song “they’ve never done before.” Iggy also keeps assuring everyone that if they nail the song on one take, they can all go home. For a first take, it’s pretty much rock solid. The beat’s firm and the bass steady, and the wah-wah effects are great on the guitar. Iggy pretty much sticks to the same vocals we know and love, with the occasional different bit.

“Slidin’ the Blues” closes off this side of the record. This is the only track the Stooges just attempted once during the Fun House sessions, before dropping it altogether. It’s not a bad song, but it sounds like what it is: a rough studio run-through of an unfinished song. Scott Asheton plays a nice breakbeat throughout the track, and he never once misses a beat. Dave Alexander’s bass follows, and overtop it Ron Asheton fucks around on his guitar, while Steve MacKay impersonates all of his favorite experimental jazz greats. MacKay is mostly the star of this one. Iggy guides the group through the song, telling who to play what, making up lyrics on the spot, and occasionally repeating the song’s title. The track opens and closes with Ig saying “This is called Slidin’ the Blues.”

Side two of the record is laid out the same as the Fun House LP, except an unreleased track stands in for the missing “LA Blues.” Take 3 of “1970” is much rougher than the track we know, and longer too. Everything’s mostly the same, but I have to say Ron Asheton’s guitar sounds much cooler here, just the most fuzzed-out wah-wah you could imagine. One problem though is MacKay’s sax, which doesn’t seem to be properly miked, and comes off a bit faint at times. Iggy mixes up the lyrics, here singing “all night in a world that’s lame” instead of “all night till it blows away.” The track goes on much longer than we’re accustomed to, proving that the Stooges were still working things out.

If “1970” is rough, then Take 3 of “Fun House” is a prototype, an 11-minute monster that takes up most of the second side. Iggy opens the track with a short poem about “Stoogeland,” and then the familiar bass notes kick in, with the rest of the band quickly following. MacKay’s sax is still faint, but again just about everything sounds the same as the finished version, though Iggy’s vocals are different at spots, as are the moans, wails, and yelps he tosses in throughout the epic running time. The Stooges are locked in tight, proving conclusively that not only did these guys know what they were doing and how to play their instruments, but also that they knew from the start what they wanted to get on tape; the early takes of this track and “1970” might be a bit rough and too long, but with a little studio editing you could make them sound very much like the final versions.

Take 1 of “Lost in the Future” finishes up the record. I had high hopes for this one, but in truth it doesn’t do much for me. The sound’s a bit faint, and the song never really seems to go anywhere. What it comes off as is a drunken cabaret, with Iggy moaning the lyrics. The beat’s jagged and rough, and instrumentally there isn’t much (at least to me) going on of note. The track lurches along, with MacKay’s sax providing all sorts of mournful wails. You can easily see why the Stooges dropped the song after only three takes. “LA Blues,” for all its noise, works as a better album closer; it finishes Fun House with a bang, whereas “Lost in the Future” finishes this LP with a whimper.

Declaration of War is an LP all Stooges freaks should seek out. I wish Rhino Handmade had made at least a small run of CD copies, but it’s cool they kept the analog-obsessed in mind. Still, if anyone comes across a CD-R burn, give me a shout. These days I’m getting sick of messing around with vinyl. I want the convenience of a compact disc, dammit!

Reviews Index