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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Iggy Pop, "The Idiot"

Iggy Pop
"The Idiot"
RCA (1977)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Iggy Pop's first solo album, "The Idiot," serves as the antithesis (aside from his album "Préliminaires," a 2009 jazz-fusion attempt) for everything that his existing fan base adored about him. Even to this day, those who worship Pop as the "godfather of punk" see his solo debut as a travesty. The shift from frontman of the hellbent Stooges to individual act was certainly a dramatic one, but many critics laud the record for its inspiration on forthcoming genres.

It's appropriate that the genre "The Idiot" falls into is titled "post-punk," because the term perfectly describes that era of Pop's life. The Stooges had been a band with an emphasis on loudness and wild abandon, and less attention to production. "Raw Power," the group's high point, would have turned out disastrous had David Bowie not jumped in to work with the recordings (the album was rereleased with the band's original version in 2010. It's beyond rough). "The Idiot" proved to be everything that The Stooges wasn't, mainly because (surprise!), Bowie was back at the helm.

It's arguable that this was more a Bowie than a Pop album. The former did after all write (most of) the music and handle the production, even if Pop wrote (most of) the lyrics. Comparing the styles present in "The Idiot" with what Bowie would release under his own name in later years only demonstrates that the star was experimenting with Pop as his guinea pig. It sounds harsh, but even Bowie has indicated truth in the statement. So what style exactly did he create here?

Post-punk is, outside of Pop's case, a confusing term. Although claiming to share the primary attitudes and qualities of punk (it usually didn't), the genre emphasized synthesizers and clean production (see appropriately titled "Mass Production) over the guitars and raw power (see what I did there?) of punk. "Nightclubbing" demonstrates the changeover from the Stooges; the bass is clear, not just audible, and Pop delivers his lines in his calm baritone, as opposed to the shrieks and yelps of his first band. Bowie also incorporates programmed drums, another trend that would become popular within post-punk. Pop's vocals are often so level that they resemble spoken-word (they in fact are spoken word for the introduction of "Dum Dum Boys."

"The Idiot" was the first of two albums that Pop released in 1977, the first of which was "Lust For Life," which we have already looked at. In my opinion, the latter is the one to stick with. But then again, I'm in the boat with the crowd that hails Pop for rolling around in glass and spreading peanut butter on himself. That's not to say "The Idiot" isn't worth a listen, but truthfully, Bowie deserves most of the attention here.

INTERESTING FACT: We already saw how "Hey Hey (My My)" by Neil Young inspired the suicide of Kurt Cobain. "The Idiot" made an infamous appearance of its own in the suicide of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, who was found hung with the album still spinning on his record player.

Nightclubbing by Iggy Pop on Grooveshark

(If you prefer the punk Pop, check out his biographical tale of The Stooges, "Dum Dum Boys." It's a tad more rock 'n' roll).

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