Freed from the droning electronic experimentation of his debut solo album, "The Idiot" - Bowie and Iggy in Berlin doing "Berlin" - "Lust For Life" is visceral, satisfyingly rough rock 'n' roll, his "Exile On Main St", perhaps. The title track wet-nursed a generation of aspiring indie kids as part of the "Trainspotting" soundtrack, and its protagonist, one Johnny Yen, surely a thinly disguised alter Iggy, would later donate his name to a James song. It's deliciously unkempt, raucously upbeat, music that climbs the walls and bounces off them.
Following this opening assault the album appears a little punch-drunk, taking a couple of tracks to recover from the onslaught. "Sixteen" is a brief, foursquare rocker that could have been lifted straight from the first Stooges album but for the brittle, trashy AM buzz of Bowie's production. Equally "Some Weird Sin" is a pale rewrite of the title track, too little too soon. Fortunately, everything comes together again for "The Passenger", the album's other fabulous, enduring moment, as Bowie and Iggy remake Jim Morrison's poetry for the punk age. Exquisite, elegant and threatening, it sells cars too, apparently. Maybe the constant background pulse, invariant throughout the song, betrays the influence of their surroundings with its metronomic Krautrock precision, but the borstal backing vocals and Mr Jones' attempts to elbow out Mr Osterberg during the "la-la-la-la" choruses are anything but. The cut-price histrionics of "Tonight" are something else again, the "Rocky Horror Show" camp disguising the song's fairytale OD subject. "Success" is chugging and gloriously ironic, Bowie and Iggy again battling each other on the increasingly raucous call-and-response vocals at the song's close. The lyrics of the nightmare junkie narrative "Turn Blue" are conspicuously absent from the booklet - "Jesus, this is Iggy", he confesses at one point, and Jesus loves The Stooges, remember! - but there's some grim fascination to be found in following the band as they drag along behind Iggy's soliloquy. "Neighborhood Threat" is almost its complete opposite, as sleek, disciplined and streamlined as the album gets. It's perilously close to heavy metal, but it's still great, underpinned by foreboding junk shop timpani rolls. "Lust For Life" lurches to a close on "Fall In Love With Me", a big production Berlin cabaret number, Iggy's vocal distortions uncannily reminiscent of the "singing-through-a-hose" sound Julian Casablancas would be employing a quarter of a century later.
"Lust For Life" is about as great as you could possibly hope an Iggy solo album could be, blessed with two era-defining songs and a clutch of several other fine tunes. It might not carry the same diseased, exhausted raw power that any Stooges album could offer, but for a first Iggy purchase there's no finer initiation.
IGGY POP Skull Ring (Virgin)
The reason to care about James Osterberg's 13th solo album to an extent that you might not have cared about its predecessors is that it reunites Mr Pop with The Stooges on record (well, on CD, at least) for the first time in three decades. Admittedly this new millennium incarnation of the legendary proto-punks consists only of Ron Asheton doubling up on guitar and bass and brother Scott on percussion, but the synergy is obvious from the first. Opener "Little Electric Chair" - not, as far as can be determined from the lyrics, an impassioned argument against capital punishment, incidentally - is a glorious, one-dimensional electric soup racket, as faithful a reconstruction of the trebly blizzard of Bowie's production on the last Stooges opus, "Raw Power", as modern studio technology will allow. The title track is a thinly-disguised clatter through "Peter Gunn", and none the worse for it. "Dead Rock Star" sounds as though Iggy is pushing the Ashetons right up against the outer limits of their abilities - a tense, tightrope act anchored by Ron's elastic basslines - and it's so thrilling that you can just about forgive him for rhyming 'knowledge' with 'college' like he's Sting or something.
The bad news is that the brothers feature on only four of the 16 tracks here. Iggy's other main accompanists, an ensemble christened The Trolls, can certainly kick up the fury but they're almost inevitable doomed to second position behind his old sparring partners. Still, they're entertaining enough on the tricksier, clever stuff that ventures outside The Stooges' sonic template, such as the punky "Perverts In The Sun" and "Blood On Your Cool", which posits Iggy as a happy, pampered puppy ("Sun shinin' on my Rolls" - and oddly enough, he's got one too, a 1981 Corniche apparently) still railing against his demons nevertheless. Other young and not-so-young guests include Green Day and Sum 41, who assist on "Private Hell" (kind of a pedestrian inversion of "Lust For Life", The Stray Cats gone nu-metal) and "Little Know It All" (a song surely tailor-made for Alice Cooper, clipped and efficient but with a sickness behind the slickness) respectively. Somewhat more astonishing are two tracks recorded in the company of, uh, frank Canadian rapper Peaches: Iggy can barely get a holler in edgeways during the brittle electroshock of "Rock Show", which sounds so futuristic it's a surprise to discover that it's three years older than the rest of the album. She almost pulls it off again on "Motor Inn", appearing with her band Feedom. It's reminiscent of the Stooges tracks but compressed both melodically and sonically (not a criticism, incidentally). Iggy's descent into dribbling "Great big titties/Big brown titties/I love those titties/I love those tittles/Titties titties titties titties titties titties titties" is sadly absent from the printed lyrics. There's one more surprise in the form of "Til Wrong Feels Wright", which features Iggy's own bluesy howl with just an acoustic guitar, a tapping foot and some righteous indignation at the state of modern music for company.
"Skull Ring" isn't a classic album, but the variety of collaborators employed brings a thrilling diversity of approach to proceedings that makes it a very pleasant way to while away an hour. And you can always tap in 1, 3, 5 and 9 to convince yourself that you're listening to the lost fourth Stooges album, which has to be worth the price of the ticket on its own.
IGGY POP A Million In Prizes The Anthology (Virgin)
Possibly the most expansive Iggy overview yet devised, A Million In Prizes The Anthology charts a chronological course from his earliest recordings with The Stooges to, uh, his latest recordings with The Stooges. This is not to say, of course, that the decades in between these two extremes have been wasted, but this collection is invariably at its most satisfying when theres an Asheton, a Williamson or a Bowie nearby.
Proceedings kick off with the gloriously fuzzed-up blank generation nihilism of 1969, both a song and a dateline drawn in the Michigan mud. If The Velvet Underground (and The Stooges producer John Cale in particular) provided the form, Iggy added the function (or lack thereof). Lou had his pretty tales about drugs and fallen society girls and drugs; Iggy, as a title of one of his later songs would put it, got nothin, loving a void indeed. He aint got No Fun neither: even the handclaps sound like theyre a contribution from some demonic cult. If, say, Zappa just flirted with this kind of attitude during Freak Out!, on Im Not Satisfied, maybe, or Youre Probably Wondering Why Im Here, adopting it as some kind of ironic comment on kids those days, this is its writhing, slashing, walking nightmare embodiment. Listen to Ig spluttering and stuttering around the Tell em how I feel line and it sounds manifestly obvious that he couldnt even if he wanted to. Its the most, er, impotent cock rock imaginable, and what a dichotomy to slice down the middle that is. Did Mr Cale have something to do with the Im Waiting For The Man-style minimalist one-note piano that pulses through I Wanna Be Your Dog? Whatever, its an early classic of the S&M microgenre, alongside Venus In Furs, as well as boasting the least festive sleighbells in the history of recorded sound.
Having shaken absolutely everything you need to hear from The Stooges important but uneven eponymous debut, A Million In Prizes makes the first of several conceptual lurches by selecting a mere single sliver from Fun House, an album sometimes referred to as Osterbergs Fifth Symphony. One track heck, its granted equal weight as Zombie Birdhouse! Well, all right, you really do need to experience Fun House in its entirety to fully appreciate its squalid, staggering journey from gutter punk to free-blowing jazz obscenity, but even accepting that there are superior, if less palatable, tracks on it than Down On The Street.
Nevertheless, filling the space that some might argue should be claimed by half of Fun House are a brace of alluring obscurities well, theyre obscure to anyone such as myself who has yet to venture outside the cosy confines of Iggys officially sanctioned studio output. I Got A Right! has a similar tinnitus snowstorm buzz to the Raw Power album, but is, if anything, leaner, faster, hungrier, even more feral. Like the equally notable inclusions Gimme Some Skin and Im Sick Of You, whose gothic horrorshow harks back to the dustier moments of their debut, it was recorded for a proposed third album that was rejected by Elektra, and leaked out as a single.
When that third album did finally arrive the selections here might sound muted in comparison to what precedes them, their strengths ultimately sapped by tinny, trebly sonics, but catch the opening guitar assault of Search And Destroy its the raga riffing of Eight Miles High on something antisocial, cornered. Iggys in total command of the situation: Im using technology, he affirms; Im the worlds forgotten boy/The one who searches, searches to destroy. The worlds forgotten boy he may be, but he wont capitulate. Gimme Danger smuggles in more of that one-finger piano and a whole load more creeping mystery and threat, alongside a slashing spiderweb of guitars from somewhere thats very not Mars, despite Bowies thin white hand at the controls. The piano re-emerges from the sulphurous glop on Raw Power, as guitarist James Williamson scratches out sounds of pure evil. For possibly the first time, Iggys promoting the having of a real good time, albeit one apparently provoked by sensory deprivation.
Raw Power reached 182 on the Billboard album charts, and The Stooges, never the most stable of ensembles, imploded. After a period of mental and pharmaceutical instability a cleaned-up Iggy checked into Jimmy Webbs studio, of all places, and recorded an albums worth of demos with Williamson. The title track, Kill City, is an astonishing artefact, sounding like Raw Power with LA polish, or Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting with bloodied boots why it hasnt been lionised in Iggy lore alongside the three Stooges albums astonishes me; its the discovery of this collection.
The remainder of the first CD charts comfortably uncomfortable territory, covering Pops time with Bowie in Berlin. Personally, I would have been tempted to swap out some of these tracks for more of Fun House, or even whatever further obscuranta might be lingering in the vaults (something from the oft-referenced but rarely heard Metallic KO bootleg might have been instructive), but this is the Iggy that most newcomers will be familiar with, the Pop tones most frequently plundered by adverts, film soundtracks and Bowie himself.
The electro throb and clank of Nightclubbing still sounds astonishingly futuristic even though its pushing 30 years old, and though Im no great fan of Funtime its steam-powered blank generation robofunk, and how many songs can you truthfully say that about? China Girl is more overtly oriental than Bowies later stadium-perfect autopilot self-cover, endearing in its wonkiness. Sister Midnight is another product of Messrs. Jones and Osterbergs crazy genre fusion factory, mashing up punk, reggae and glam. Displaying bathos rare in popular song, Tonight would be a hit duet for Bowie and Tina Turner, but only after the exorcism of the overdose plot strand, and theres a rich irony to Success, unit shifting never being one of Iggys highest priorities. Lust For Life has arguably been granted even greater cultural resonance through its use over the opening credits of Trainspotting, just about compensating for the way its thundering percussion introduction awakens long-dormant memories of Phil Collins You Cant Hurry Love. Raucous, confident and unhinged, its a world away from, and arguably a reaction to, both the contemporary punk scene and Iggys earlier work that kickstarted it. The brilliance of The Passenger might be forever slightly sullied by its association with bland Japanese repmobiles (whats the subtext there, that driving a Toyota turns you into a self-mutilating, psychologically troubled, drug-hoovering godfather of punk?) but its poetic aspirations are a rarity in the Pop canon and besides, Igs gotta pay for the upkeep on the Rolls Royce somehow.
The second disc is a patchier, if more diverse experience, treading a careful path through a career hinterland that found him repeatedly restating his core values to diminished effect. Im Boreds stint as music to sell beer by hardly detracts from its edgy elasticity, but whilst Iggys (and Bowies) best work remains timeless the splashy, synthesised production of Real Wild Child (Wild One), very previously a hit for Australian rock n roller Johnny OKeefe, locks it inevitably to the mid-80s. 1990s Brick By Brick found him happily resurgent, now confident enough even to camp it up on the charidee Deborah Harry duet Well, Did You Evah!. The absence of almost all of Fun House is slightly compensated for by the inclusion of previously unreleased live versions of two of its tracks, snared at the 1993 Feile Festival. T.V. Eye, in particular, is breathtaking: Eric Schermerhorn unspools a guitar solo thats practically jazz, and the impact of the return of the songs machine-gunning riff towards the end is astonishing. In these later years he seems to have developed a trick of couching his most unpalatable lyrics in velveteen music, for example Look Away and I Felt The Luxury, backed on the latter, somewhat improbably, by jazz trio Medeski Martin + Wood. Mask might initially sound like a standard Iggy chugger, but his impassioned, bloodthirsty howl against Irony in place of balls/Balls in place of brains/Brains in place of soul/Where is the soul?/Where is the love?/Where am I? enlivens proceedings immensely. Finally, just the title track is extracted from 2003s Stooges semi-reunion Skull Ring, its Peter Gunn thud still speaking volumes.
A somewhat misdirected booklet lists the songs appearances in films and on singles, striking a strangely trainspotterish note for a package presumably aimed at the floating voter in ways that, for example, the 6 CD box set of Stooges outtakes Heavy Liquid is not. The track-by-track credits do, however, expose the glittering parade of celebrity guests adorning these selections: as well as the aforementioned Cale and Bowie half of Blondie and the Sex Pistols pay homage, as do a couple of Guns N Roses, Henry Rollins, The B-52s Kate Pierson, Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor and sometime Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt. But this is essentially a one-man show, and in providing a reasonably comprehensive synopsis of Pops near 40-year career this anthology is as valuable as its title boast suggests.