David Bowie owes a good deal of his gold and platinum to Iggy Pop. The mad Michigan daddy of punk is widely believed to have inspired Bowie's glitterrock creation Ziggy Stardust, and two of Bowie's biggest hits were about ("The Jean Genie") and by (an Iggy-Bowie collaboration, "China Girl") the Pop. The Thin White Duke has dutifully repaid that debt over the years: he coaxed Iggy back from drugland in Berlin and produced his robust 77 comeback LPs, The Idiot and Lust for Life. But Blah-Blah-Blah, which Bowie coproduced and largely co-wrote, could be the big payoff; Bowie has finally given Iggy a Let's Dance of his own.
Hard-core hellions suckled on the cathartic roar of Fun House and Raw Power will undoubtedly dismiss Blah-Blah-Blah as Iggy's big sellout. Indeed, Bowie relies too much on the conventional snap 'n' shine of current electro-dance music to frame his protégé's roguish lyric wit. There is a nagging homogeneity to side one — too many moody circuit-board rockers in a row, with Iggy sliding into his vocals like an evil, oily Der Bingle.
Yet even at its most familiar, Blah-Blah-Blah is as spiritually outraged and emotionally direct as commercial pop gets these days. Appropriately, the album opens with a synthed-up version of a prophetic '58 Buddy Holly romp called "Real Wild Child (Wild One)." Iggy has long outgrown the concrete-jungle-boy act of his manic days with the Stooges ("I'm a streetwalkin' cheetah with a heart full of napalm," from 1973's "Search and Destroy"). There is, however, an urgency to his writing and singing that defies the threat of deceleration in middle age — Iggy turns forty next year — as he confronts, with noble-savage cool, a tense future. There isn't that much distance between the Stooges' caged-animal ennui and the "glass and wire world" of "Winners and Losers" where "surly leeches gain the right/To send their message screaming." Even when he backs away from the bull in "Hideaway," Iggy doesn't leave without a parting shot — "The concrete strips/Raw greed and king TV/They say, 'So what'/I say, 'So this.'"
Blah-Blah-Blah's best performances match Iggy's barbed dispatches with aggressive instrumental change-ups like the surprising Young Rascals-style organ break in "Baby, It Can't Fall" and Kevin Armstrong's stutter-and-strangle guitar against the bittersweet scraping of strings in "Winner and Losers." "Blah-Blah-Blah," a shotgun blast of apocalypso rap, finds Pop facing the holocaust, cackling like the devil's envoy in grim Burroughsian verse ("I'm from Detroit/Blow the reveille/Deatho knocko/That's me little ol' me") over a vicious hip-hop stomp that sounds like "Lust for Life" stripped to the bone. "Cry for Love" is the best of the best, a ripping fusion of classic Iggy rage, Bowie cabaret and unexpected romantic vulnerability. "In searching for/A meaningful embrace/Sometimes my self-respect/Took second place," Iggy admits ruefully at one point — shortly before Sex Pistol Steve Jones (who co-wrote the song) zaps him with a cannonball guitar solo.
Even in tamer moments, as on "Shades," a funny, affecting little song about love and sunglasses ("These shades say something/I'll bet they cost a lot"), there is a vital edginess to Iggy's singing that elevates Blah-Blah-Blah way above recent Bowie ham like 1984's Tonight. In fact, although he doesn't sing or play a note here, this is one of Bowie's most dynamic outings — in terms of content, spirit and sheer crackling energy — since Heroes.
Leave it to Iggy to bring out the best in his famous patron. Iggy Pop's been taking all the chances and getting none of the rewards for nearly two decades. Buy, buy, buy Blah-Blah-Blah and, just for once, let him cash that nerve at the bank.