Review Summary: If there’s one thing David Bowie and Iggy Pop are not, its idiots.
What would you expect from an ex-Stooge and an iconic musical chameleon? For fans of either artist, the predictability of what their first album-length collaboration would sound like was surely far from anything like the revolutionary post-punk dirge of The Idiot
. The 1977 record didn’t sound like the hard-rocking, punk precursor of The Stooges sound, nor did it resemble Bowie’s alien-infused glam rock. What the Dostoyevsky-inspired album (or at least its title was influenced by his eponymous book) did sound like, was something completely fresh and ground-breaking; and in the eyes of some, The Idiot
was technically the first chapter in Bowie’s legendary Berlin period, on account its material being written in mid-1976, i.e. before work on Low
Although The Idiot
is most effectively categorised as post-punk, its influences and mix of genres are disparate to say the least. Taking elements of funk, krautrock, industrial, rock and electronica, the album boats a highly distinctive and deceptively varied sound. Despite its undercurrent of eclecticism, The Idiot
is a very metallic and clinical record – its subtle traces of seemingly incompatible genres are capably moulded into a menacing post-punk cadence by Bowie’s Alomar/Davis/Murray rhythm section, who served him more than splendidly on his classic Station To Station
LP, and several of its successors.
The deconstructed funk of the oedipal dream cum nightmare, ‘Sister Midnight’, sets the brooding tone of the album perfectly. Pop’s voice is a deep, gothic crawl, sounding as though he could lapse into roaring anger at any moment (and does so several times on the album, in actuality), and sits alongside angular guitars, stringent bass lines, punchy percussion and synthetic tinges, which make up the musical end of the cut. ‘Nightclubbing’s cheap drum machine and sleazy synth blurps serve as a suitable backdrop to the filthy cityscape imagery conjured by the lyrics and tone of the number, whilst ‘Mass Production’ boats a grimy proto-industrial tune, adding to the album’s variedness.
Further highlights include the suffocated kick of the gothic ‘Funtime’, the gloomy Bowie sax and angst-ridden lyrics of ‘Tiny Girls’, and the infectious, crawling riff of ‘Dum Dum Boys’ – a sublime 7 minute nod to Pop’s Stooge past. Perhaps the most stunning track on offer is ‘China Girl’. What would be turned into a glimmering pop hit by its Bowie co-writer in 1983, here, serves as a complete parallel to the aforementioned version, sounding menacingly dark and brooding, with its fractured melody soon evolving into a paranoid swirl of distorted guitars, gorgeous synths and gruesome vocals and lyrics, all blending together to create an undisputed epic and this writer’s favourite version of the song.
is every bit as stunning as you’d expect from two of rock’s most iconic and important stars, and then some. What’s more, The Idiot
proved massively influential to the post-punk genre that was soon to emerge, and impressively, this was achieved whilst punk was simultaneously polishing its crown atop the throne of contemporary cool. You can hear traces of Bowie and Pop’s bleak, robotic rock in many succeeding bands; Joy Division deserving a particular mention. Singer/songwriter Ian Curtis sadly chose The Idiot
to be his last listening experience on the night of his suicide - perhaps the most startling symbol of the album’s influence on him; arguably, post-punk’s most tragic and ultimate icon. A consistently stunning and ground-breaking listen which breathed life into Iggy Pop’s declining career, The Idiot
is unequivocally one of the most defining and essential albums of its era.