Monday, February 27, 2017

Top 100 Albums of the 1970s - #96 - Iggy Pop - The Idiot (1977)

Iggy Pop goes New Wave! Five years after the furious onslaught of The Stooges, Iggy Pop returned to music in surprisingly humble, experimental way. Whereas his goal with The Stooges frequently seemed to be making as much noise as possible, here we find Pop at his most introspective, which is a welcome change.

In fairness, a large part of the album's sound is due to producer and co-writer David Bowie. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to call this a Bowie album in everything but name, for the songs here are remarkably similar to the early Berlin-period work that the Thin White Duke was exploring at the time, and two of the tracks, China Girl and Sister Midnight, would later resurface on Bowie albums, albeit in substantially altered forms.

Still, Pop is responsible for most of the lyrics on the album, as well as the vocal interpretation, and that's saying something. While not as accomplished a singer as Bowie, Pop's voice lends the tracks a vulnerability we haven't often heard before.

There's a theme I intend to come back to several times during this series: Fatigue with the rock and roll lifestyle. As the wild and raucous rock stars of the 1960s get a little older and a little more mature, it seems that an almost universal sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction descended upon them in a body. Lou Reed may have been the first one to make endless partying sound exhausting and depressing, but he was certainly not the last, and it's my theory that this feeling is a large part of what drove the energy of punk so quickly into the dark, cold world of post-punk.

Nightclubbing, written by Pop to describe what it was like hanging out with Bowie, encapsulates this kind of burnt out weariness perfectly. Nightclubs are supposed to be fun, but here they are painted with the mechanical rhythms of Kraftwerk and a droning, emotionless vocal. One gets the sense that everyone is tired and wants to go home, only no one wants to be the first one to say so. Similarly, Funtime doesn't sound as fun as its title would suggest.

For me, the high point of the album is China Girl, closing out Side One. While Bowie's more familiar version is more polished and well-produced, I prefer Pop's apocalyptic take, with the crushing descending bass line. In Bowie's hands, it sounds like a charming little love song. Pop makes it sound like the world is coming to an end.

Starting with its title and not letting up until the last track, The Idiot is a study in indecision, doubt, and regret. Coming from someone with Iggy Pop's bravado, it's a refreshing and engaging listen.

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