UP THE HILL BACKWARDS: The Idiot's Lust for Life


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The release of Post Pop Depression is more than enough evidence that Iggy Pop is still one of the best voices in rock and roll. He may not have as many landmark albums as other artists but the ones he does are among the biggest on rock’s overall skyline and cast gigantic shadows because of it. The Idiot and Lust for Life are still perhaps his most important statements and they are even more so if you look at them as inextricably connected. For that matter, Post Pop Depression is as good as it is precisely because of how much it harkens back to those older albums, proving the ideas on them are still so forward thinking. 1977 was one of music’s biggest years.  It was the Big Bang explosion of nearly all strains of alternative rock. Sure, there was an experimental fringe (made up mostly of German bands) throughout the sixties and seventies and more mainline artists had hinted at the way music would become more bizarre (looking your way, Roxy Music and David Bowie). But ’77 was the year we got debuts by Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Suicide and Television.  It’s also the year the Starman proved he’d been to even further reaches of outer space with Low and Heroes. But it was also the year Iggy Pop released his big comeback records, The Idiot and Lust for Life, and they may be the best indicators of how this year really did change everything. Iggy-Pop-and-David-Bowie-1986-billboard-650 Iggy started the attack early on. Other than The Monks and The Velvet Underground, The Stooges are perhaps our earliest example of an American band as indebted to the spirit of rock and roll as they were to avant-garde expressionism. Songs like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “Search and Destroy” were propulsive punk-before-its-time opuses. If it weren’t for The Stooges, none of the bands above would’ve existed in quite the iteration they chose for their art. The Velvets may have inspired everyone to start a band but The Stooges made sure all those bands played loud and viciously. So it’s ironic that, in 1977, Stooge style violent rock was pretty much the opposite of what Iggy himself was doing. These two records are, of course, bound up totally with Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. The two of them had been friends for a while (Bowie would visit him after he’d committed himself to an insane asylum) and their desire to overcome drugs together was met and surpassed by a joint burst of creativity that’d end up defining their careers. In Berlin, getting drugs out of their system seemed to almost be secondary to getting ideas out in the studio. Luckily for us, they succeeded in doing both. aacff350a26bdf394ed6167f6ccf85c5.1000x1000x1 On The Idiot, those ideas are primarily Bowie’s. “China Girl” is on there in an earlier form and album opener “Sister Midnight” would morph into album closer “Red Money” for 1979’s Lodger. But even if the music itself does sound like a prototype of what would happen on Low (released before The Idiot but written and recorded m after), there are elements of the album that could only have come from Iggy Pop. For one thing, The Idiot has a sort of elemental grit and New York angst that doesn’t show up on Bowie’s own Berlin explorations. Where Bowie took his listeners to distant locales and crammed their heads with new ideas, Iggy kept their ears to the ground and made them realize where they already were. The determined yet sluggish rhythms, the odd and jarring sounds, the ghoulish textures: these are all carryovers from Iggy’s time with The Stooges even if they’re performed here with different moods, tempos and instrumentation. Songs like “Nightclubbing,” “Funtime,” “Baby,” and “Mass Production” prove post-punk, goth rock and industrial music all crawled out of the same manhole that The Idiot came out of first. The fact it was the last record Ian Curtis listened to before his suicide lends it an even more haunting aesthetic.
If The Idiot stands guard outside a bat-infested nightclub the underground world would enter in droves post-1977, Lust for Life is the house band across the street waiting to grant reprieve for anyone who’s getting down from all the depression. Even though it’s often cited as the more Iggy-centric album of the two, it’s more of a break from his work with The Stooges than its predecessor in its emphasis on upbeat sonics. This is the first Iggy Pop album wherein the mood is consistently more on the upswing. The Stooges’ work is rage and raw power, The Idiot is depression and the comedown and Lust for Life is mania ultimately stabilizing in contentment.
From the title track on, it's a record set on reaffirming what made rock and roll such a dangerous and danceable art form from the get-go. After mostly providing atmosphere on his last effort, the guitars are turned up loud and proud. You get Bo Diddley beats, sexually deviant and morally transgressive lyrics, Gospel choirs and riffs upon riffs upon riffs. It's bombastic in all the ways The Idiot is understated.
002-iggy-pop-theredlist Basically, Iggy Pop effected a revolution that's lasted since 1977 up till now. He made it okay to talk about dark desires and feelings of dread within both a more atmospheric context than rock really allowed before and then restated it as redemptive and loud just one album after in the same year. One record is a tragedy, the other is a comedy. These two albums are why a pleasantly melancholy song like Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ and a disturbingly cathartic song like Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ can claim a common parentage. Joy Division and New Order, ‘Just Can't Get Enough’ and ‘Policy of Truth,’ etc: bands and songs galore grow out of the fact Iggy could weep and waltz in a graveyard and jump and jolt on a stage while making it all seem like two sides of a single coin. You can hush it up, you can scream it: Iggy just did both in an impressively short span of time.
Credits Words by Mack Hayden  Photo Credits Amazon, Flickster, theredlist,