Whether playing a dangerous madman or a drug-addled weirdo (sometimes simultaneously), Iggy Pop’s career can be successfully mined like few others.
Nobody in rock dicks around quite like Iggy Pop, and no one achieves the oddball brilliance he does while doing so. Because of this, he is truly one of the finest frontmen in rock history. Whether playing a dangerous madman or a drug-addled weirdo (sometimes simultaneously), his career can be successfully mined like few others.
To wit, one wonders if Pop’s first two post-Stooges releases – The Idiot and Lust for Life, both from 1977 – are two album-long trolls perpetrated upon the general populace with their parodies and references to other bands, as well as overall sarcastic nature. Hell, Pop’s vocals at times sound like a half-assed David Bowie impression. This extends to the liner notes, since some official songwriting and performance credits don’t exist.
What we do know is that Bowie was heavily involved in the songwriting and production of both LPs, with The Idiot seen by some as basically a test tube for his ideas. That Bowie later co-opted two of its songs (“Sister Midnight” became “Red Money” for Lodger and “China Girl” was polished up for Let’s Dance) and one from Lust for Life (“Tonight” became a title track) for his own work suggests at least a modicum of truth and/or a tacit admission from him.
While perhaps true, this analysis undermines not only the albums themselves, but also Pop’s contributions, both in songwriting and performance. It also obscures just how fascinating these two are, lab experiment(s) or not. The industrial machinations of “Mass Production” alone are worth exploring, both because of the seasick composition and the straight lines that can be drawn to Killing Joke and Chicago Drill.
Of course, both records benefit from exploration across the 80 combined minutes. The spot-on Stooges impressions (Idiot’s “Dum Dum Boys” doubles as a tribute, while “Sister Midnight” has the band’s signature ‘50s raygun guitar), the deadpan sarcasm (Idiot’s “Nightclubbing,” Lust for Life’s “Success”) and all of the drug references, explicitly (Lust for Life’s “Tonight” and “Turn Blue”, Lust for Life’s title track) and implicitly (Lust for Life’s “Some Weird Sin”, maybe?), all begin to reveal the depths of these seemingly off-the-cuff LPs.
And those come mainly from Pop. Bowie, along with his longtime partner Tony Visconti on Idiot and Colin Thurston on Lust for Life, hid a number of details in the respective mixes for astute listeners to uncover. “China Girl,” for example, has a guitar scratching the inner left channel and an industrial-tinged guitar shuffling in the right (which also appears on “Tiny Girls”), while “Lust for Life” has some wildly fun surf rock guitar licks under the morse code riff in both channels.
And let’s not forget about the songs themselves. Beyond Lust for Life’s iconic title track, there are some surprisingly fun songs contained in this pair of records. Idiot features a doo-wop number (“Tiny Girls”) and a purposefully dumb robotic romp (“Funtime”), and Lust for Life has a bouncy indie pop gem (“The Passenger”) and a bluesy exercise with a crooning Pop (“Turn Blue”). Both also have straight-ahead rocker caricatures: “Sister Midnight” from Idiot and “Success” from Lust for Life.
As to whether The Idiot and Lust for Life are truly Iggy Pop solo records or simply collaborative works with David Bowie that have simply Pop’s name on them – well, that misses the point. Pop is, and has always been, an expert-level troll, and these twin records reflect that in all their contemptuously tongue-in-cheek glory. Maybe the point was that these aren’t Pop solo records but he labeled as such anyway, because why the fuck not?