Yielding classics such as “Sister Midnight”, “Nightclubbing” and “China Girl”. Many critics stated that this was really a David Bowie moment with Iggy taking the credit. Whether or not Bowie helped Pop get his career back on track is not the case here as maybe it was back in 77, this record can be seen as the progenitor to what we now know as Post-Punk. Even though a year earlier on Bowie’s very own discordant masterpiece”Station to Station” in the title track itself we were gifted the seed, but The Idiot is the growth and excercise from that very seed. Bowie could be seen as the godfather of Post-Punk but as he visited and touched upon many different genres, this very detail maybe a tad over looked.
1. Sister Midnight
5. China Girl
6. Dum Dum Boys
7. Tiny Girls
8. Mass Production
Rolling Stone Review
Released: March 1977
Chart Peak: #72
Weeks Charted: 13
Iggy Pop has always been the greatest rock comedian. As leader and frontispiece for that most extreme wing of rock nihilism represented by the Stooges, he at once defined and ridiculed the options left to punk rockers after “My Generation.” The nihilist attitude meant plenty when it was a reaction to the pop status quo best exemplified by Dick Clark, but once nihilism itself became the status quo it was trivialized into mere decadence, a fashionable synonym for boredom.
Iggy’s criticism is a brilliant, if depressing, argument in defense of that much debated assertion that rock is dead. The Idiot, recorded by Bowie, sung in a tired growl excoriated from Jim Morrison via Ray Manzarek, and steeped in the so-called “minimalist” ambiance currently so fashionable among young bands who’ve spent too much time listening to Iggy and taking him seriously, is the most savage indictment of rock posturing ever recorded.
Iggy’s point, of course, is that rock is better off dead, but his is not the sentimental, transcendental approach to death. The Idiot is, on the contrary, a necrophiliac’s delight, and Pop’s next move may well go beyond flesh-tearing into live barbecue.
– John Swenson, Rolling Stone, 5/5/77.
This is the third time around for the father of heavy metal nihilism, and while Iggy Pop sounds no less evil, the album is less frantic than his earlier efforts, moving at a more dirge-like pace. The co-author and producer of this effort is David Bowie, who makes the offerings more commercially palatable. The music sounds a little as if it came from Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” period. Iggy Pop sings with a rasping rock voice while guitars drone on behind him. Best cuts: “Sister Midnight,” “China Girl,” “Tiny Girls,” “Mass Production.”
– Billboard, 1977.
The line on Iggy is that this comeback album with Bowie and friends proves his creative power has dissipated. I say bullshit. The Stooges recorded prophetic music, but only some of it was great: because Iggy’s skill at working out his musical concept didn’t match his energy and inspiration, the attempted dirges fell too flat and some of the rockers never blasted off as intended. Dissipated or not, the new record works as a record. By now, Iggy barbs his lyrics with an oldtimer’s irony, which suits the reflective tone Bowie has imposed on the music just fine. In retrospect, it will appear that this was Iggy’s only alternative to autodestruct. Not true, perhaps, but retrospect favors artifacts. A-
– Robert Christgau, Christgau’s Record Guide, 1981.
The Idiot was definitely warm welcomed into the world by various critics as examples show, however the freshness in which is still sounds today and the amount of artists it has inspired along the way is countless. Apart from Post-Punk, the album spawned Industrial elements as well.
For anyone who loves the Bowie version of China Girl, i can agree with you – what a grand slice of pop music. However the original recording found on this element is a raw experience, to which i can’t say which i like better.
The China Girl in question, who is she? Kuelan Nguyen. For a detailed version of how the song came to be go here
Two of the key figures in this recording for me apart from Iggy’s powerful display and Bowie’s creative back room role is none of than the guitarists Phil Palmer (nephew of the Kinks Davies bros.) and Carlos Alomar, some best know him for the guitarist who played on most of Bowie’s recordings or the puerto rican maestro who replaced classic rock sideman Mick Ronson. Alomar appeared on Bowie 2 last albums before The Idiot, “Young Americans” and “Station to Station”. However it’s Palmer who gets most of the action throughout the recording, with Alomar hitting the heights with Sister Midnight which is seen to be a sequel of sorts to Bowie’s “Fame”.
Song Picks – Dum Dum Boys, Mass Production.
Rating – A
I’ll leave you with an article written in 1977 by Kris Needs for ZigZag Magazine.
Iggy Pop: The Idiot, Kris Needs, ZigZag, April 1977
IT’S TWO O’CLOCK in the morning and I’m playing The Idiot for the fifth time running. Can’t stop, it’s so compelling…but very VERY strange.
I wish I’d heard it before seeing Iggy on his recent UK tour. I mean, the last offering I’d heard from Iggy was the Metallic KO live album, recorded when he was still the demented daredevil from Detroit, dodging bottles and getting bashed in the face over high speed, pounding riffing from his Stooges.
On the last tour we got half new music and half new treatments of old faves, performed by a straightened-out Ig with his new band. He concentrated on singing and kept to the arrangements rather than taking off on self-destructive wildman diversions.
First time I saw the revamped Iggy – at Friars Aylesbury on the opening night – I have to confess I was disappointed, along with a number of other people. It was like he was trying to pull something out of the bag with little help from an unbroken-in band. But there was still something great about the bloke, like supressed dynamite.
A week later on the last night of the tour at the Rainbow Iggy was fantastic…the geezer I’d wanted to know and love, (I’d never seen him before this tour). And those new songs sounded much better the second time around, ‘specially the one about “my dead girlfriend”. But that still didn’t prepare me for The Idiot.
This new Iggy is far removed from the screaming demon on Fun House and Raw Power. I love those albums, but a bloke has got to move on, and Iggy has.
“Yeah, I’m almost like him”, he screams in the final seconds of ‘Mass Production’, the closing cut. You sure are, Ig. Very much like “him” – if you take “him” to be David Bowie, the bloke who handled keyboards on the tour. This album half belongs to David – he co-wrote all the tracks, arranged and produced it, as well as being featured on various instruments, (though it don’t say so on the cover).
It’s another Mott The Hoople job. When Bowie wrote and produced ‘All The Young Dudes’ it was like he was projecting himself through Ian Hunter and the group…like he’d sucked them in and spat them out as miniatures of himself.
Same thing’s happened here. Sometimes Iggy sings just like David, especially when he goes down deep. The backings could be straight off Low (which was recorded later at the same studios – The Chateau and Hansa in Berlin). Ain’t nothing wrong with that, ‘cos I think Low is great…I love that dense, pounding, scarey sound which also characterises this album. But it’s Iggy’s show, and I’m glad it’s back on the road.
This is a very strange album, morbid, obscure and unsettling. Like Low it’s aimed squarely at the cold, mechanical future. An attempt to recycle the ‘Search And Destroy’ style on record might have sounded posed and hackneyed in the light of the New Wave. Iggy was unique in 1972. Now he’s moved on.
Wrap your coat around your shoulders, and we’ll take a walk with The Idiot.
Side One pumps into life with ‘Sister Midnight’, a song he did live. Multilayers of overdubbed Ig intone the repetitious lyrics over a hovering stop-go riff which, like many of the tracks, gets more frenzied and swamped in sound as it goes along. Stretched, distorted guitar (a fave sound of Bowie’s) hangs over the top. Ig’s lyrics are like some kind of Oedipal nightmare/plea for help, ‘cept at the end where he’s just mewing and moaning like a tortured kitten. Good stuff.
Strange about lyrics. On many tracks Iggy will sing “we” instead of “I”, which in stark black and white under the co-composers’ credits on the lyric sheet sleeve heightens the feeling of a shared persona. On ‘Nightclubbing’ our heroes are doing the town, learning “Brand new dances like the nuclear bomb”. This is the bleak sound of the 1985 disco, as ghostly electronic washes sky-write phrases over an unsettling, distorted disco pulse.
‘Funtime’ reminds me of ‘White Light White Heat’ with its call-and-response vocals. The metronomic drumming remains unstopping and unstoppable throughout.
‘Baby’ is set to an electronic walking beat and seems to plead for a girl to stay pure and “clean”.
If ‘Sound And Vision’ was the obvious (only) choice for a single on Low, ‘China Girl’ is the one here. The only really ‘up’ track, it starts off innocently enough as one of those “I’m a mess without you” love songs, but soon degenerates and disintegrates musically and lyrically. Iggy starts singing about “visions of swastikas” in his head, and turns nasty on his little China Girl – “You shouldn’t mess with me, I’ll ruin everything you are”. He displays uncharacteristic emotion before giving way to a long, distended instrumental fade which is pure Bowie – the man’s string synthesiser, electronics and sax building an impenetrable Berlin Wall over the bedrock drumming.
If side one makes you shiver, side two will pop you into the fridge…and you can’t even dance to keep warm.
‘Dum Dum Boys’ opens with a “Whatever happened to me mates” rap before diving into another oppressive riff, which pulls and claws under great slabs of noise for the whole seven minutes.
The words are about Iggy’s old gang – probably the Stooges, although if it is he wants to get playing with them again! “Now I’m looking for the dum dum boys/ Where are you now when I need your noise”.
Draw your own from that, but I think this is autobiographical at least: “They looked as if they put the whole world down…”, “People said we were negative”.
‘Tiny Girls’ is a tiny ballad sandwiched between the other two tracks. If you want to hear Bowie break out on sax and Iggy singing the tune from ‘If You Go Away’, then this is the one. A mystery.
‘Mass Production’ is the closing killer epic. Fun House is a hazy memory by now, obliterated by a malevolent, monolithic riff, teutonic in the extreme. Bowie’s loopy synthesiser break in the middle is how I would imagine a musical police siren in the nightmare of a cold turkey case. It’s almost suicidal – “Though I try to die, you put me back on the line”, and the personality crisis reaches a peak: “And I see my face here/ And it’s there in the mirror/And it’s up in the air/And I’m down on the ground”. Does Iggy know who he is? Out he goes shouting: “Won’t you get me that girl/ Yeah she’s almost like you/And I’m almost like him”, into the chilling air-raid sirens again. BRRR!
I’ve had this album for two days and can’t be bothered to dissect it anymore. I just think it’s great, although it chills me to the marrow. “The walls close in and I need some noise”. I’ll put it on again, like an idiot.
© Kris Needs, 1977