Iggy Pop

     The Idiot (RCA, 1977)
     Lust for Life (RCA, 1977)
   TV Eye Live (RCA, 1978)
     New Values (Arista, 1979)
    Soldier (Arista, 1980)
   Party (Arista, 1981)
   Zombie Birdhouse (Animal, 1982)
      Choice Cuts (RCA, 1984)
    Blah Blah Blah (A&M, 1986)
   Instinct (A&M, 1988)
     Brick by Brick (Virgin, 1990)
   American Caesar (Virgin, 1993)
    Naughty Little Doggy (Virgin, 1996)
    Avenue B (Virgin, 1999)
    Beat 'Em Up (Virgin, 2001)
    Skull Ring (Virgin, 2003)
     A Million in Prizes: The Anthology (Virgin 2005)
    Preliminaires (Virgin/Astralwerks, 2009)

With the Stooges, Iggy Pop was a self-lacerating madman primarily interested in raw power. But on his solo albums, he's expanded his persona. The two best ones, The Idiot and Lust for Life (both produced by David Bowie), pack in crunching rockers and burnt-out torch songs, as well as a unique sensibility: brooding, sardonic, restless, outraged, perceptive, funny as hell, slightly bitter. The Idiot knowingly pokes through the residue of hedonism-run-amok on "Funtime" and "Nightclubbing," while Lust for Life highlights like the title cut and "The Passenger" portray Iggy Pop as a punk survivor. He's battle-scarred, but still searching. Producer David Bowie modernizes the dense psychedelic blare of the Stooges, substituting synth moans for guitar wails and keeping the jackhammer beat largely intact. This stark, electronic sheen alienated more than a few old Pop fans, but the Bowie association and the advent of new wave brought Iggy to a much larger audience.

Reuniting with latter-day Stooges guitarist James Williamson, Iggy cooks up a lean, keyboard-enhanced hard-rock sound on New Values. If he doesn't quite consummate the title track's ambitious quest, Iggy does find strength in the old verities. "Endless Sea" perfects his post-Doors romantic doomsayer stance, and sets the stage for hundreds of mopey underground sensations to come. This initial stage of Iggy's career wielded a tremendous influence over the Eighties; he translated the glittery innovations of Bowie and Roxy Music into a streetwise argot any art-school dropout could understand. After that, however, the dreaded roadshow syndrome set in. Through the Eighties, each successive Iggy album sounds more dispiriting and uninspired than the next.

It's hard to decide which A&M album is worse: The slick Bowie reunion (Blah Blah Blah) mysteriously fails to spark either participant's batteries, while the numbing dinosaur-rock return (Instinct) stumbles into the tar pits. Ever the phoenix, Iggy stumbles halfway back from artistic oblivion with the surprisingly consistent Brick by Brick. This self-consciously "mature" effort offends the faithful, but Iggy curls his lip and lets his delightfully twisted mind roam the contemporary media landscape.

By 1993, our hero had been lionized by Seattle bands such as Mudhoney. But his response to grunge was American Caesar, wherein producer Malcolm Burn applies the same swampy, reverb-drenched glop that his colleague Daniel Lanois had dumped all over records for U2 and the Neville Brothers—an approach that suits Iggy not one whit. Conversely, Naughty Little Doggy sounds as if it had been recorded in the same time it takes to listen to it and for about 25 bucks, besides. This was a step too far in the other direction, but the strutting, leering "Pussy Walk" may be his funniest tune ever. And then came Avenue B, a baffling if often amusing excursion into crooning and spoken word, accompanied largely by organ trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. If that record seemed ill-advised, at least it wasn't the same old scum rock retread that Beat 'Em Up was.

Skull Ring includes four tunes recorded with his old comrades, as well as cuts with Green Day, Sum 41, and Canadian porno-rap diva Peaches. Sadly, each of the latter is far more energetic than the reconstituted Stooges' tracks. Iggy again reunited with the Stooges for 2007's noisy, boisterous The Weirdness, but went in another direction on Preliminaires: Though influenced by New Orleans swing, it was a quieter album of café ballads and subdued electronics, with a few strong tracks ("I Want to Go to the Beach") sprinkled in. A Million in Prizes is a two-disc anthology that cherry-picks from Iggy's entire career, including his work with the Stooges.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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