Thursday, February 01, 2018

Review: The Stooges - Highlights From The Fun House Sessions

Every so often Elektra will do a re-release package of some kind of the Stooges’ first two albums, such as the Rhino Handmade version of the first album or The Complete Fun House Sessions, both of which were released on CD.  There were also expanded mass-market CD releases of these albums in 2005.  Now that vinyl is most Stooges listeners’ preferred format again, Elektra has put out a color-vinyl double-album through the Run Out Groove imprint titled Highlights from the Fun House Sessions, of which only 2906 were pressed (they are numbered, with the individual number stamped on the back in gold-leaf).

One thing that is nice about this package is that the cardboard cover is thick and glossy, like an old-school gatefold record cover from the mid-60s (like the Impulse! albums, for example).  It is well designed, with liner notes in the gatefold discussing the importance of Fun House (the Stooges second album, 1970) and the rationale for putting out a new album of alternate takes culled from the Complete Sessions.  The iconic photo of Iggy being held aloft by the crowd at the 1970 Crosley Field gig is smartly chosen and the layout looks good.  Design-wise, there is one tiny flaw: the text on the spine gives “Funhouse” as one word, whereas the album is actually titled Fun House (two words).  This error is repeated once in the liner notes, though it is of course a minor complaint.

More importantly, Highlights from the Fun House Sessions sounds great.  Elektra/Run Out Groove have done a very decent mastering and pressing job, at least it seems on my stereo.  The selections are also not all the same as on the 2005 CD release, making this a uniquely thought-out collection.  There are a couple of overlaps with that CD, but also some different takes.  I like the longer 17-minute “Freak” (a.k.a. “L.A. Blues”) as the whole of Side 4.  What I don’t understand is that, on Side 3, the takes of “1970” and “Lost in the Future” are incomplete — the band breaks down and stops halfway through.  Not a huge deal with “1970,” since a good, complete version is also on Side 2, but particularly with “Lost in the Future,” it’s a kind of a missed opportunity, because there was a complete take of it (which is on the 2005 CD) (and obviously all of these are on the Complete Sessions), and you would think you would want to showcase it, as the one actual fully realized outtake song that didn’t make it onto the original album.  “Slide” is on here in complete form, appropriately, but that is really just a jam, where Ron Asheton practices the licks he uses on “Dirt.”  The band does get into a good groove on this.  But it is just a bit annoying about the lack of the full “Lost in the Future” (to me, anyway; others may not mind).  What I would have done with Side 3 is: cut the incomplete “1970” and the second version of “T.V. Eye,” and would instead have gone with: a further alt take of “Fun House” (because Steve Mackay really wails on those!), included the complete version of “Lost in the Future,” and then “Slide.”

In any case, this is a very cool release, which I enjoyed hearing and will undoubtedly play often.  It also makes me think: Elektra or Run Out Groove should do an “alternative” version of the first album, on vinyl, like this new Fun House package.  It should include the full versions of the songs on the first album without the fadeouts, including the super-long “Ann,” some of the alt-versions, and add “Asthma Attack.”  These have only ever been released on CD, not on vinyl (aside from the 7” of “Asthma Attack” included in the Rhino package).  If they really want to go all in, they could include a third disc with the original John Cale mixes at the proper speed (since Rhino mastered them too slow on the Handmade release, I think it was), and make it a triple album.  Here’s roughly how that album should go; Elektra take note:

Side 1:
1969 (full version, no fadeout)
I Wanna Be Your Dog (full version, no fadeout)
No Fun (full version, no fadeout)

Side 2:
Real Cool Time (full version, no fadeout)
Ann (full version, no fadeout)
Not Right (full version, no fadeout)
Little Doll (full version, no fadeout)

Side 3:
Asthma Attack
We Will Fall (the alt version, first released on Rhino Handmade)

Side 4:
All the best alt-vocals versions and outtakes that can fit on the side.

Sides 5-6:
The Cale mixes, mastered at the proper speed, in the sequence of the album.
Do it!