Iggy Pop – The Idiot (1977)

Fair Dealing/Fair Use

Listening for the first time to a bone fide legend of music comes with more than a small amount of trepidation and expectation. One expects to be immediately impressed, wowed, surprised and entertained; one expects to be left kicking oneself, asking in a reprimanding way why it’s taken so long to listen to and imagining all the lost time spent not listening.

For better or worse and such is Iggy Pop’s reputation that this was how I started listening to 1977’s The Idiot by Iggy Pop.

I now know it was for worse. The ignorance of never having listened to this album was bliss. That I was disappointed would be understating it. Maybe it was a ‘never meet your heroes’ scenario, except that Mr. Pop (not to be confused with Bloodhound Gang’s Jimmy Pop.) hasn’t ever been a musical hero of mine. However, because of the reputation and longevity of his services to music I assumed that everything he had ever done was great. That we’d fallen upon this album in a Greatest Albums of All Time… guide heightened that.

Perhaps, before continuing, I must caveat this: prior to listening to The Idiot my Iggy Pop knowledge expanded to:

–       The Passenger;

–       Lust for Life;

–       A song about wearing a mask, you look better that way;

–       A song about being bored, being bored, being the Chairman of the Board;

–       Multiple references throughout Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting;

–       Nightclubbing; and

–       His BBC 6 Music show.

Not a lot to go on, I know. That’s even more testament to I. Pop though that the reputation transcended my scarcity of knowledge.

And so, as I took the proverbial plastic music out of the sleeve, placed the proverbial needle and commenced the proverbial spin (I pressed play on Spotify) imagine the fading of my grin as opening track Sister Midnight starts, and continues…for a very long 04 minutes 20 seconds.

It brightens up somewhat though, as the rhythmic thumping bass and swagger of Nightclubbing starts; a song evocative for myself as one that a terribly un-cool cat at uni would listen to before going out (O’ wherefore art thou, thou brogue-wearing pastel-jumper clad toast-eater). The discordance throughout is stifling; the keyboards too much; the guitars too screechy.

In short: the musicality is too deep, too much effort to get out, to get at, to feast upon, per chance to enjoy.

Nightclubbing and China Girl are nearly the highlights of the album, the latter being more popularised by Bowie in his 1983 re-recording. Nightclubbing’s evocative swagger of this formidably prodigious duo strutting the late-70s Berlin streets punctuates the album’s dirge.

Whilst tracks such as Funtime communicate the hedonism of Pop (and the age: I just do what I wanna do, all aboard for funtime) there’s a musical juvenility and self-indulgence to it that I wasn’t expecting. The Ramoneswere doing that at the same time and doing it much better.

Reading up on the album, and Mr I Pop’s life around this album, it potentially should’ve had a bit more to offer by now. After almost complete destruction of himself, Iggs checked himself in to rehab. He survived, cleaned up, and exited. Being a true artist (for he is, irrespective of my insignificant disdain of this album) he was soon ready to make music again; perhaps more in need of it than ever (see DumDum Boys thoughts, below). But labels would go nowhere near. That is, until, a certain D. Bowie Esq. stepped in. Bowie didn’t just produce the album, most of the writing credits and joint Pop and Bowie.

The duality permeates the album throughout and doesn’t take a music connoisseur to hear Bowie’s influences: the keyboards, the jazz, the funk, the bass. To be clear (and to probably piss off most of the musical world) I’m not really too much of a fan of Bowie. There’s plenty in the discog to fans of almost any taste to enjoy (Letter to Hermione for myself, maybe), but I’m certainly no fanboy.

Perhaps, and this, perhaps, is stretching it a little, perhaps: Iggy knows this isn’t moment and album isn’t his forte; he knows this is him beginning the ascent again. Falling (jumping?) from the summit and not just reaching the bottom but falling into a crevasse, too. The key lyric is in standout track DumDum Boys: a homage and ode to the Stooges: Iggy questions Hey, where are you now when I need your noise? Now, I’m looking for the Dum Dum Boys. The walls close in and I need some noise.

It’s poignant stuff; sensitive. Bowie’s over-production of the track though grates and the discordance is unwelcome. It’s a song that’s ripe for stripping back and giving Iggy the spotlight for his rich, soulful, hoarsey croon. Instead, the chalkboard-fingernail guitar pushes the listener away and/or forces them to stick with it and dig deeper to the rough diamond underneath. It’s the key that unlocks the album. It’s the introspectiveness amongst the swagger and the mirror turned inwards. But it’s way too overshadowed by everything else.

On the whole, I find it unlikely The Idiot is Iggy Pop’s opus magnum. To those well acquainted with his back-catalogue it seems disingenuous that this would be the album that they would give to non-listeners as an intro. It’s undoubtedly important in the trajectory of Iggy Pop’s musical catalogue and it’s both a blessing and curse that David Bowie intervened to get it made: a blessing because who knows what would’ve happened to Mr. I. Pop if not and a curse because if one isn’t on board with the Bowie of this era, then one ain’t gonna get on with this album. It’s less his fingerprints are all over it and more he’s still in the room with the body on the floor and smoking gun still in his hand.

If it wasn’t for DumDum Boys I’d struggle to say I’d ever listen again. It’s an album I doubt would win any new fans for Iggy Pop.

© Cromwell’s Codpiece 2024