‘… it’s my album of freedom. I’m not saying that it’s a great album or some fantastic work of art, but I love it and it means a lot to me’
Iggy Pop, on finishing The Idiot in 1977.
I confess to getting a bit obsessed with the whole Iggy/Bowie/Berlin* thing, some incredible music came out of it Lust For Life, Low, Station to Station, Heroes, Lodger**. David Bowie and Iggy Pop decamping off to Berlin to try to clean up/take insane amounts of drugs/make haunting music/score some second-hand Weimar decadence – saving lives and Iggy’s career in the process, plus giving Bowie the chance to hide away and be Pop’s touring piano player for the next year.
This is such a downer album, in a good way – put it on, sink down into the cushions and slow your racing thoughts to a flickering barely perceptible crawl as the LP washes over you.
I agree with Mr Osterberg about The Idiot, it isn’t a fantastic piece of art but it is occasionally a great album. My very favourite track today is the 8 minute closer ‘Mass Production’, inspired by the decaying sounds and sights of industry back in Detroit, it does something that is always guaranteed to grab me by the cabooblies, by straddling that great brilliant/boring boundary. I never used to see the point in it at all, until one night I was sitting right here creating a little of that Hansa decadence myself, some lit candles, two glasses of red wine^ and some novelty slippers^^; it just clicked and Xeroxed its way into my affections right there and then. That slow-slow beat is totally infectious and, hey, sounds mechanical as Iggy intones his hymn to numbness over the top.
Cutting back to the beginning, ‘Sister Midnight’ is a tough baritone funker, featuring some great guitar, as always, from Carlos Alomar. Iggy described the sound of The Idiot as James Brown meets Kraftwerk and this is as close to JB as the album gets, Iggy’s voice humanizing the whole deal.
Even better is my very favourite track on the album yesterday, ‘Nightclubbing’ which until the film Trainspotting was released I thought was a Grace Jones song. Words cannot begin to describe how much I love that rudimentary, fucked-milking-machine rhythm, Phil Palmer’s astonishing guitaring and Iggy’s dead intonation of the lyrics; this is a man who took being jaded to absolutely Olympian heights at this point in his life. It is a seriously great track.
Hey, I feel lucky tonight
I’m gonna get stoned and run around
All aboard for funtime
‘Funtime’ is yet another missive from the Kingdom of Numb, Iggy’s lyrics at his most fittingly banal as the music churns and squirms beneath him. I’m not quite so sure what makes ‘Baby’ such a treat, Iggy giving it that whole ‘Mutant Sinatra’ thing again over what sounds like a simplistic cabaret backing track – in a good way. There’s a certain amount of Jim Morrison being channelled through the prism of ‘Baby’ too.
Dusted off and tidied up years later for Let’s Dance I think ‘China Girl’ is way better in Iggy’s paranoid iteration, you can really hear something feral and sharp lurking in the background, some kind of repressed chaos. I may be an innocent young rural Welsh boy but try to sell me that line about ‘China Girl’ being about an infatuation with a Vietnamese lady, rather than heroin and I’ll blacken your eye. Definitely unromantic opiate rather than the romantic hope I ate.
I find ‘Dum Dum Boys’ an interesting one, beginning as it does with a role call of the Stooges members and their fates. It is an oddly poised track, perched somewhere equidistant between eulogy and dismissal, I am a sucker for the growl of it though. Iggy’s assertion that ‘I can’t seem to speak the language’ any more, tells us exactly where his head was it in respect of the punk scene.
I love that The Idiot was such a great sidestepping of the prevailing musical tide, effectively inventing post-punk whilst most of the saps were still trying to work out what punk was. The man was at least 6 years ahead of his time.
Iggy’s earlier nihilism had gone, leaving us with a more uncertain adult Pop (with, or without the capital ‘p’), The Idiot comes from an honest place and a fairly well-intentioned one too; sometimes simplistically so, but het that’s idiocy for ya.
Prince Myshkin would be proud.
*I’m deliberately overlooking the fact that The Idiot was mostly completed at Chateau d’Herouville in France and not in Berlin. The truth doesn’t fit what I wanted to write about.
**not that I’ve ever heard Lodger***, but sometimes I pretend to have to seem cooler to muso friends at work.
***or had even heard of it until a certain Mr Hubner mentioned it, years and years ago.
^yup, a whole two. Just colour me Bogart.
^^it is a little-known fact that Iggy Pop and Bowie spent the whole Berlin period wearing a startling array of novelty slippers, without any regard for their health, or street cred. True story.