Between 1975 and 1980, punk rock evolved rapidly from the reductionist two-minute stomps of the Ramones to the free-form dub jazz of such bands as the Pop Group. But Michigan proto-punkers the Stooges had already made the same journey on the only two albums they recorded with their original lineup, 1969's "The Stooges" and 1970's "Fun House." Whereas the first disc--produced by Velvet Underground alumnus John Cale--gave such self-explanatory titles as "No Fun" a conceptual-cretinous purity, the second album roared into unexpectedly jazzy territory.
Although it's long been prized by cultists, "Fun House" sold even less well than the quartet's commercially underwhelming debut, and led to the band's quick departure from Elektra Records. So it's clearly nuts for Rhino to release a seven-CD, eight-hour box set of every note the Stooges recorded during the May 1970 "Fun House" sessions. But for those prepared to make the commitment, "1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions" is a fine madness.
The Stooges had plenty of avant-garde connections, and when they arrived in Los Angeles to make "Fun House" they stayed at the motel where Andy Warhol was shooting "Heat." For a producer, however, Elektra had selected Don Gallucci, a mainstream-pop professional whose punkiest credential was that he had played organ on the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie."
Still, it was Gallucci who suggested that the band try to replicate its raucous live sound in the studio. With that goal in mind, singer Iggy Pop recruited tenor saxophonist Steve MacKay, who sometimes played with the band onstage. MacKay's task was to propel the Stooges in the direction of two of Pop's greatest influences, James Brown and John Coltrane. That he did, although his sax squawks crest on primal vamps that sound more like the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" than Brown's "Cold Sweat."
Issued in a limited edition by Rhino Handmade, a subsidiary that sells its releases only on the Web (rhinohandmade.com), "1970" contains just one unreleased song, "Lost in the Future," and a few interesting lyrics that didn't make the album. The box set's revelation comes not so much from individual moments as from its cumulative impact.
Remarkably, listening to take after take of the album's seven original songs--15 of "TV Eye," 32 of "Loose"--comes to make a certain obsessive sense. The album offers the chance to immerse yourself in "Fun House," a demanding but often cathartic experience.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)