See a black Eldorado
Oh, rolling along down below my window
That black girl in the back looks pretty good
Christ! She’s beautiful
You know how soft she is
Just what you feel like
Oh, I’m so far away from her
Jesus this is Iggy
You, you might as well come with me
Oh yes, if you want to soundtrack lust, then surely you have to reach for the Duke of Depravity, the Grand Vizier of Vice himself, Mr Iggy Pop. Lust For Life was a product of the same legendarily decadent, cold Berlin Bowie Pop process that bought us Low, The Idiot and Heroes. Opinions vary on Bowie’s role was he, a bit of a cool vampire feeding off the cool of true cool outsiders who took it to the limits like Lou and Iggy? or a master enabler who allowed those around him to flourish? or a bit of an overbearing controller who turned the work of those he really admired into just an extension of his own?
Boring and grown up as it is, I believe that all three are true in different measures and at different times; although his ‘production’ on the earlier Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power will always earns him a 1537 demerit. On Lust For Life Bowie co-produced and wrote the music for 7 of the 9 tracks so it was inevitable that the LP would bear his imprimatur. That it also such a strong Iggy Pop album is a testament to Mr Osterberg’s resurgent strength at this point and his swing back towards rockier climes after The Idiot. The overall rockingossity of Lust For Life is testament to the crack group Bowie assembled, Carlos Alomar and Ricky Gardiner on guitars, the Tony and Hunt Sales rhythm section and Bowie on keys – three-quarters of Tin Machine. To be honest that’s a band so strong I reckon even if they’d put me on vocals I could have cranked out a classic, given enough time in the Hansa studios. Iggy put the success of this LP down to the fact he was a lot more focused and fussed because he was cleaner than when he’d worked on The Idiot.
‘Lust For Life’ itself is just an unbeatable track, possibly just one of my fave tracks by anyone, ever it also has, along with a fabulously committed vocal and William Burroughs inspired lyrics, the best drum sound ever. I remember when this track had a big resurgence after it was featured on the Trainspotting soundtrack in 1996, I bought the re-released 7″ of course and it was just everywhere, I remember going to a party one night where it was, seemingly, just played over and over again*. The other big hitter here and a track I have spent days of my life listening to and incidentally the best song ever to wander through a city at night listening to is ‘The Passenger’, if ‘Lust For Life’ is one of my fave tracks by anyone ever, then so is this one – maybe even ranked one place higher. The vocals are perfect, the riff is perfect+1, the ‘la-la-la-la / la la la la’, bits are just perfect+2 and the references to the city’s ‘ripped backside’, childishly, gets extra 1537 bonus points. Music doesn’t get a whole lot better than this for me.
Or does it? ‘Sixteen’ is such an incredible song too, pure sleaze personified. The music, the only music solely by Iggy Pop on the album, is all clenched and sleazy, emphasising the gap between the song’s teenage subject and Mr Pop’s dishonourable intentions. The vocals, seemingly delivered through clenched teeth just nail it for me, the way he sings the lines, ‘I must be hungry, ’cause I go crazy / Over your leather boots’ is worth the price of admission alone. The closing ‘I love you’ s are helpless and hopeless, by the end of the song you know who has the power here and it ain’t Iggy; which is I think what saves this track from just been a disquieting blast of macho man-musk, there’s a sadness buried away in here too. The guitars slash and sting harder on this track than anywhere else too. Tremendous stuff.
There are all manner of other good bits in here too, I’m rather taken with ‘Success’, which like Iggy’s too broad smile on the LP cover is far too sunny to be truly healthy. The call and response vocals work a treat here along with the almost-nursery-rhyme quality of the lyrics, everything is groovy and facile over in success-ville. Similarly the jaunty ‘Some Weird Sin’ and its sensation of temptation as being ‘stuck on a pin’, whilst contemplating debauchery that De Sade himself would probably balk at**. ‘Tonight’ is the most Bowie-esque (Bowish?) track on offer here sounding a lot like the slightly stately pop he was peddling circa Let’s Dance, which he later covered of course, removing the opening reference about ‘turning blue’ when he sang it with Tina Turner.
My other favourite is ‘Turn Blue’, which is almost a torch song version of Lou Reed’s ‘Street Hassle’, or one of Prince’s later more melodramatic numbers, annoyingly, and I assume for space reasons, RCA didn’t put the lyrics on the sleeve. It would make for a good soundtrack to the climactic scene of a particularly grubby musical, ‘Mamma, I didn’t know what I was doing / And I didn’t mean to but I did it, I shot myself up’. I like the mean ‘Neighborhood Threat’ too, possibly the closest Iggy gets to punk on this 1977 LP; I always really respected the way that he struck out on his own route rather than falling into the trap of making an overtly punk LP at this time and playing up to the whole Godfather of Punk routine, this was a much more, umm, punk response.
Closing Lust For Life is ‘Fall In Love With Me’, the most German sounding track on the album, it sounds like a pop version of Krautrock, motoring, relentless, lost in a groove, momentum for the sake of momentum – mirroring this tipsy tale of falling,
You look so good to me
Standing out in the street
With your cheap fur on
Or maybe your plastic raincoat
And your plastic shoes
They look good too
Standing in the snow
You’re younger than you look
What a romantic! Trust me Iggy, I’m a man of the world, I’ve been around the block a few times and that last line … well, you know the phrase ‘Faint heart never won fair lady?’, well I have another one ‘Compulsively honest heart never won fair lady either’ dude’. It’s an eminently listenable track on an eminently listenable LP.
I’ve fallen for Lust for Life all over again writing this. Debates over how Bowie an LP it is, or isn’t, are not really very relevant when the results were this good anyway.
P.S: Brilliant Berlin Bowie Pop article here; read it.
*its ubiquity in advertising thereafter was the inspiration for one of my fave ever headlines in, my beloved, The Onion – ‘Song about heroin used to advertise bank’.
**umm, or is that just be projecting my own foibles onto the blameless Mr Pop? nevertheless I wouldn’t have left him unchaperoned with my scapegoat at this point in time, lest the inevitable happen.