The Idiot by Iggy Pop Review
Iggy Pop’s debut solo album, The Idiot, was the result of the second intervention by David Bowie in Iggy’s career. Unlike the first intervention, on Raw Power, this was a more direct creative collaboration with Bowie largely contributing the music while Iggy wrote the lyrics. Bowie’s influence can be heard all over The Idiot and although it was written and recorded before Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”, it was deemed at the time of release to have been influenced by Bowie’s records.
The first track, Sister Midnight was co-written with Bowie’s guitarist, Carlos Almodovar, and immediately sets the tone for the album as being very different from Iggy’s Stooges output. Bowie contributed the opening lyrics to the song but the rest were written by Iggy. It’s a strange kind of funk/electronica crossover song but works very well. Bowie was to re-work and re-record the song as Red Money later in his career.
Nightclubbing was to find prominence years later as part of the soundtrack to the film Trainspotting. The influence of Krautrock, and in particular, Kraftwerk is very clear on this track with its heavy use of synthesizers and drum machine. David Bowie had wanted a drummer to fill in the drum parts of the track but Iggy insisted on keeping the drum machine in. Iggy was right to stand his ground, this is a highlight on The Idiot. The lyrics and delivery were suggested to Iggy by Bowie as walking through a city late at night like ghosts. We’ve all felt like that on a night out!
Funtime offers a similar view on having fun as The Stooges song No Fun with its laconic delivery and droll lyrics. The song was played live by Iggy and Bowie on the Dinah Shore show in 1977 and along with Sister Midnight, made up a two song set. It is notable that Iggy’s Oedipal lyrics were considered too much for daytime TV and were changed to something incomprehensible about potatoes.
Baby is an album track that continues the electronic, synthesized approach before we come to China Girl. Apart from the titanic final track and Dum Dum Boys, China Girl is the third longest song on The Idiot and boasts impressive synthetic orchestration and saxophone work. Lyrically, it has been rumoured to be about heroin but it is now widely acknowledged to be about Iggy’s unrequited feelings for the partner of a French musician Jaques Higelin, who was recording in the studio at the same time. David Bowie would release his own version in 1983 and the royalties of this would help make Iggy financially secure. Of the two versions, Iggy’s The Idiot is the best, featuring a grittier vocal from Iggy and a more raw sound. Bowie’s version, although strong, has a more lightweight, poppy feel.
Dum Dum Boys is Iggy’s ode to his former band, The Stooges. A spoken word intro over a slow, treated piano sees Iggy name the band’s members and their fate before a monstrous distorted guitar riff sweeps over the song. Iggy is rumoured to have come up with the riff and it wouldn’t sound out-of-place in his old band.
Tiny Girls is another fine album track and paints a pessimistic picture of relationships. Bowie contributes some fine, atmospheric saxophone.
Mass Production is a magnificent ending to the The Idiot. An industrial electronic epic seemingly about the desire to produce a duplicate girl, presumably because Iggy can’t have the one in question. Perhaps the industrial backdrop of Iggy’s beginnings in Michigan provide some inspiration for this song.
The Idiot has attracted some criticism for being something of an anomaly in Iggy’s output and Iggy himself criticised for allowing Bowie to dictate matters. However, David Bowie could not have produced this album alone. The lyrics are among the finest Iggy ever produced and bear many of his unmistakable hallmarks. Both Bowie and Iggy deserve credit for creating the Idiot.
The Idiot has also been praised by many and is considered prescient in that it predicted post-punk and influenced many of the synthesizer bands of the 80’s. Chillingly it was the last record Joy Division singer Ian Curtis listened to before he committed suicide.
The Idiot was the first Iggy Pop album to break the UK Top 40 and buoyed by its success, Iggy and Bowie reconvened in Berlin to record and release its follow-up, Lust for Life the same year.
Rated Sound gives The Idiot by Iggy Pop 9/10.
The Idiot (1977) by Iggy Pop Track Listing
1. Sister Midnight
5. China Girl
6. Dum Dum Boys
7. Tiny Girls
8. Mass Production