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Throwback Review: Iggy Pop ‘The Idiot’

Review and illustration by Alberto Pazzi.

Good Rock’n’Roll is like comedy. When I see old videos of Iggy Pop bouncing around the stage, spreading his legs and smearing peanut butter all over his body, I’m engaged, mostly because of the music but also cause he’s a very funny character.

Back in the late 60’s when he was the frontman of the seminal proto-punk band “The Stooges,” Iggy was known for being something of a wasted case who could barely stay on his feet and finish a set, burning spectacularly—a shooting star free falling through heavy drug usage and a live fast, die young mentality. But a decade after the band’s debut album kicked the world in the balls and exploded into popular consciousness, the Godfather of Punk was heading in a new direction.

The year is 1977. Iggy is out of rehab and under the wing of his longtime ally and pal David Bowie, who with his artistic vision and intuition was aware of the potential of Mr. Pop as an individual star, is invited to Berlin to mess around with the avant-garde sterility of Krautrock culture. Bowie stood by him, co-writing songs and pushing him to make more sophisticated work. What they achieved together would be light years away from whatever Iggy had accomplished back in USA with The Stooges.

Influenced by the sound of Detroit’s factory machines and the vibe of Berlin in the 70’s, The Idiot is far from being a pop album. The heavy use of early analogue synthesizers evoke a dark dystopian world where hallucinations about nazi vampires and disco zombies take place. It’s Iggy Pop’s comeback and redemption, but also his reincarnation as a decadent but still disturbed rock singer.

The album begins with the cold and unsettling “Sister Midnight,” nevertheless, it’s funky as hell. Iggy’s robotic voice and the increasing intensity of the electric guitar lines imbue the track with anxiety. Our narrator, is desperately demanding attention, calling a female figure that never answers, until the song reaches it’s climax, overwhelmed with hysteria. The sentiment and lyrics (“I’m an idiot for you”) are probably the origin of the album’s title and a clear thematic introduction for what’s to come.

Then comes the fashionable atmospheric delight that is “Nightclubbing.” A ghostly anthem composed by an overconfident drum beat, a high dose of synth and the pounding of piano keys that slowly start to crawl under your skin. It’s a decadent description of a night out on the town, and boy, it’s wild. So far, the album might sound emotionless and mechanical but there is room to play with “Funtime,” which brings out Iggy’s voice with full frenzy and beautiful splendor. He says stuff like “Last night I was down in the lab / talkin’ to Dracula and his crew,” and I can’t help but think damn, that sounds fun!

After this little break, we’re back in the dark with “Baby” a track that features a regretful narrator looking back on a career of failures and drug abuse. It’s Iggy Pop facing his past demons, a song that totally contrasts the next number, because in “China Girl” he sounds a bit more casual and animated, speaking about a girl of his affection but also about the thread of western civilization. It’s a high-point in this album and one of the best Bowie-Pop collaborations ever.

This is such a nocturnal album for me. I like to listen to it as I take a walk through the foggy streets of Bushwick looking for a late night dive-bar. It’s an influential touchstone for bands like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Joy Division—infamously, it was the album Ian Curtis was listening before he hung himself.

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