by Amanda Arber / Clash
16th March 2012
In July 1976, Iggy Pop and David Bowie hid away in a recording studio known as Château d’Hérouville just outside of Paris to record ‘Low’; the official beginning to Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, and what is largely referred to as the most depressing record ever written. With this seminal classic came another that had been started but never completed from a year earlier, Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’, which is referred to as the unofficial beginning to Bowie’s Berlin period and the second most depressing record ever written.
‘The Idiot’ was Pop’s first solo record since the demise of his raw power heyday as front man of The Stooges (and came soon after his stint in a mental hospital) and was both musically and lyrically worlds apart. The clash of guitars had been replaced with synthesizers and electronic beats and was warmly received by critics as they praised ‘The Idiot’ as being Pop’s best work, but also said it was unrepresentative of Pop himself and reeked of the work Bowie had put out around its release.
Pop has defined ‘The Idiot’ as his “album of freedom”, presumably because he could break away from what he was so well-known for and take a direction that was “a cross between James Brown and Kraftwerk”.
Unlike Pop’s past writing, a lot of the tracks for ‘The Idiot’ were self-referential. Whilst recording at Château d’Herouville, Pop met Kuelan Nguyen, his ‘China Girl’; the song describes the affair they had behind her husband’s back even though neither of them spoke the same language. ‘Dum Dum Boys’, an ode to The Stooges’ glory days, is a disturbing insight into Pop’s internal monologue of how he saw their rise and fall. The introduction is a faux conversation listing the current state of each member’s disintegrated life with just a piano and electronic beat. The middle-eight is perhaps the most insightful part of the song, with simply a guitar and Pop’s voice, as he sings: “And then the boys broke down”. ‘Nightclubbing’ is an expression of Pop’s love of the decadent, party lifestyle he once led. It’s a stand-out track on the record that’s lazily anchored by the delayed beat that leads all the way through.
Co-writer and producer David Bowie would later use some of ‘The Idiot’’s material for his own music. Bowie reworked opening track ‘Sister Midnight’, changed the lyrics and released it on his record ‘Lodger’ under the title ‘Red Money’, and his cover of ‘China Girl’ for ‘Let’s Dance’ would reach incredible success and become a major hit.
The record has been deemed one of the major influences on most post-punk, electronic and industrial artists, including those later hailed as gods themselves, such as Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Joy Division (‘The Idiot’ is of course notorious for being the last record Ian Curtis listened to prior to killing himself). Siouxsie Sioux described ‘The Idiot’ as a “re-affirmation that our suspicions were true: the man is a genius.”
Thirty-five years after its release, ‘The Idiot’ stands as a dark, dense and desolate display of an artist confronting his demons head-on, and growing up in the process. It was bleakly revolutionary then, and it is now.