Zigzag APRIL 1977 - by Kris Needs


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 K.O. 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 suppressed 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, scary 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.