Born in suburban Michigan in 1947 the young Osterberg began his musical career as a drummer in various Ann Arbor bands, including The Iguanas (from whence his stage name) and at first he immersed himself in traditional urban blues, inspired by Paul Butterfield's skins man Sam Lay. When the less family friendly groups rolled into town, the MC5, Doors and Sonics, Jimmy would be stage front, sucking up the energy. Ever willing to push the boundaries back and smash down the walls his tenure in the mighty Stooges ran from the psychedelic sixties to the beginning of the glam seventies, both eras reflecting in his music. The Stooges had notoriety rather than sales but in 1971 Iggy hooked up with David Bowie who brought him to London to make the classic Raw Power and play his debut English date at the King's Cross Scala - those who were lucky enough to be there (including yours truly) cite this show as one of the most riveting rock concerts ever. After reuniting The Stooges, no small achievement considering the various members personal habits, Iggy got, as they say, his act together. Relatively cleaned up and always spectacularly fit, he proceeded to attend to a sequence of superb albums. Which is where we come in. After touring with Bowie on his Station to Station tour Iggy Pop, as he now was, adopted a similar template for The Idiot (1977) which is widely regarded as the kick-start for Bowie's own Berlin period. Recording in Paris, Munich and Berlin, Iggy and Bowie worked up a futuristic sound without relying too heavily on synthesisers and electronica, rather adapting those elements sparsely and lashing them to Ig's trademark hard rock. Using champion players like Carlos Alomar on guitar and the rhythm section of Dennis Davis and George Murray, the songs also had a hard soulful funk edge. Every track here is a winner, starting with 'Sister Midnight', the strutting 'Nightclubbing' and throwback 'Funtime', it's amazing to count the notches of excellence. 'China Girl', 'Dum Dum Boys' and the monumental rock of 'Mass Production' were no slouches either and the resulting album became Ig's first major chart entry in the UK and America. The Idiot was a huge influence on forthcoming acts like Joy Division,Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode and the alt. American rock movement of the '80s.
Continuing the theme Iggy returned to the Hansa Studio by the Wall, Berlin to record Lust For Life, another five star extravaganza. The fast recording process (Bowie notoriously hates overdubbing and unnecessary takes) gave LFL a spontaneously combusting live feel. New guitarist Ricky Gardiner composed the haunting, cinematic 'The Passenger', which Iggy set to lyrics inspired by a Jim Morrison poem. Bowie provided the title track's urgent stop start riffs, while Mr Pop looked into his own dark soul to pen 'Turn Blue', the confessional 'Some Weird Sin' and the affecting 'Fall In Love With Me' which revealed a side to him hitherto not deemed possible to locate. Again the hold the album exerted on other bands suggested that Iggy doesn't have peers, he has acolytes. When other rated musicians are in thrall to you, then you must be dong something right.
Having turned the dangerous age of 30, Iggy did the decent thing and released TV Eye: Live 1977, assembled swiftly from dates on an American tour, including heartland venues in Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland - hotbeds of hard rock. Mixing up a few choice Stooges classics like 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' and the resurrected title track with vital moments from his recent discs all crunched into gear by Tony and Hunt Sales, Bowie and Scott Thurston.
After a couple of label switches Iggy zooms back onto our radar with Brick by Brick (1990). Produced now by Don Was, this album garnered Pop fulsome praise. A carefully constructed set of songs, many dealing with America's imminent cultural decay, struck a nerve with listeners and the huge sound provided by Slash and Duff McKagan from Guns N'Roses were the perfect backdrop to urgent pieces like 'Butt Town', 'Main Street Eyes' and 'The Undefeated'. Don Was also brought some choice guests to the party, including B-52's vocalist Kate Pierson whose duet with the artist on 'Candy' gave Ig his first MTV hit. Elsewhere John Hiatt, Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowers lend a gritty R&B edge to an album that is well worth rediscovery today.
On a roll again, American Caesar (1993) continued the theme of examining social upheaval and is a very strong disc. Amongst the standout cuts is a terrific reworking of The Kingsmen punk nugget 'Louie Louie', hilariously adapted by Iggy to give it an astonishing twist. This time Iggy works with Malcolm Burn in New Orleans and Bearsville, NY State and they concoct a sprawling 70 minutes plus of contemporary Iggy gems like 'Plastic & Concrete' and 'Perforation Problems'. Despite the subject matter there is a deal of sly humour to boot and the CD comes with a tongue-in-cheek Parental Warning.
Naughty Little Doggie shows Iggy on the cover wearing an American army helmet and the listener might be advised to take heed since this is another take no prisoners affair performed by Iggy and the F**kups. The likes of 'Knucklehead', the elegiac 'Look Away' (in honour of Johnny Thunders and Sable Starr) and 'Heart Is Saved' are all top notch and walked into the Ig's then live sets like old friends.
Pop kicked out the jams again on Avenue B, a real New York love affair again produced by Don Was. The extra track 'Hollywood Affair' finds a willing ally in Johnny Depp and there's an incendiary version of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' 'Shakin' All Over' to thrill over as well as the slinky 'Miss Argentina' and 'Nazi Girlfriend' for those with more outrageous tastes.
Energised by his all-round entertainer acceptance Iggy produced his own Beat 'Em Up in Miami's Hit Factory and went against the grain of everything that was middle of the road in American rock at that time. To warm the heart further Iggy rocked out big style as he confronted the taboo on 'Drink New Blood', 'Death is Certain' and the black humoured 'Go for the Throat'. Calling his four piece The Trolls showed where his head was at. Not where anyone else's head is at.
Melting the metal again, Skull Ring is outlandishly punk. The Trolls and The Stooges join in on a disc that boasts flaming guitar riffs and stacks of grinding percussion. This ain't for the faint hearted but Iggy fans lapped it up while the combination of Pop and Green Day on 'Supermarket' was a savvy move that introduced the Ig to a new generation. Lucky those who have never heard him before because a treat is in store. The 2-disc anthology A Million In Prizes is the definitive collection for anyone who wants to dip a toe in and heard why all the fuss. Containing a generous helping of vintage Stooges material, cuts with James Williamson and the solo classics there are 38 moments of magic here including 'I'm Bored', the duets 'Did You Evah!' with Debbie Harry (of Blondie fame) and 'I'll Be Seeing You' with Francoise Hardy and other signature pieces like 'Real Wild Child (Wild One') and the best bits from Raw Power. Unconditionally recommended.
Preliminaires brings our tale to a close for now and whisper it quietly but rock is here replaced by French chanson, Brazilian rhythms and Bourbon Street jazz blues - definitely a weird one but worth checking out for precisely that reason. It's also a great album.
So there you have him. Iggy Pop. How pleased we are to make his acquaintance. They broke the mould when he popped out. We won't see his like again.
Words: Max Bell
On The Idiot, Iggy Pop looked deep inside himself, trying to figure out how his life and his art had gone wrong in the past. But on Lust for Life, released less than a year later, Iggy decided it was time to kick up his heels, as he traded in the midtempo introspection of his first album and began rocking hard again. Musically, Lust for Life is a more aggressive set than The Idiot, largely thanks to drummer Hunt Sales and his bassist brother Tony Sales. The Sales proved they were a world-class rhythm section, laying out power and spirit on the rollicking title cut, the tough groove of "Tonight," and the lean neo-punk assault of "Neighborhood Threat," and with guitarists Ricky Gardiner and Carlos Alomar at their side, they made for a tough, wiry rock & roll band -- a far cry from the primal stomp of the Stooges, but capable of kicking Iggy back into high gear. (David Bowie played piano and produced, as he had on The Idiot, but his presence is less clearly felt on this album.)
As a lyricist and vocalist, Iggy Pop rose to the challenge of the material; if he was still obsessed with drugs ("Tonight"), decadence ("The Passenger"), and bad decisions ("Some Weird Sin"), the title cut suggested he could avoid a few of the temptations that crossed his path, and songs like "Success" displayed a cocky joy that confirmed Iggy was back at full strength. On Lust for Life, Iggy Pop managed to channel the aggressive power of his work with the Stooges with the intelligence and perception of The Idiot, and the result was the best of both worlds; smart, funny, edgy, and hard-rocking, Lust for Life is the best album of Iggy Pop's solo career.
Words - Mark Deming
In 1976, the Stooges had been gone for two years, and Iggy Pop had developed a notorious reputation as one of rock & roll's most spectacular waste cases. After a self-imposed stay in a mental hospital, a significantly more functional Iggy was desperate to prove he could hold down a career in music, and he was given another chance by his longtime ally, David Bowie. Bowie co-wrote a batch of new songs with Iggy, put together a band, and produced The Idiot, which took Iggy in a new direction decidedly different from the guitar-fueled proto-punk of the Stooges. Musically, The Idiot is of a piece with the impressionistic music of Bowie's "Berlin Period" (such as Heroes and Low), with it's fragmented guitar figures, ominous basslines, and discordant, high-relief keyboard parts.
Iggy's new music was cerebral and inward-looking, where his early work had been a glorious call to the id, and Iggy was in more subdued form than with the Stooges, with his voice sinking into a world-weary baritone that was a decided contrast to the harsh, defiant cry heard on "Search and Destroy." Iggy was exploring new territory as a lyricist, and his songs on The Idiot are self-referential and poetic in a way that his work had rarely been in the past; for the most part the results are impressive, especially "Dum Dum Boys," a paean to the glory days of his former band, and "Nightclubbing," a call to the joys of decadence. The Idiot introduced the world to a very different Iggy Pop, and if the results surprised anyone expecting a replay of the assault of Raw Power, it also made it clear that Iggy was older, wiser, and still had plenty to say; it's a flawed but powerful and emotionally absorbing work.
Words - Mark Deming
The timing of Iggy Pop's album Preliminaires is probably a product of coincidence and fate rather than careful planning, but it's hard to ignore the fact that just a few months after the unexpected death of Ron Asheton put the Stooges into limbo (at least for a while), Iggy has released an album that almost entirely avoids the issue of rock & roll. In a publicity piece for Preliminaires, Iggy wrote "I just got sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars," and the man whose music helped inspire so many of those thugs keeps a wary distance from electric guitars on most on this album. Advance reports suggested that Preliminaires would be a jazz album, but that's not accurate, even though one of the best songs on the set, "King of the Dogs," features Iggy borrowing a melody from Louis Armstrong while backed by a traditional New Orleans jazz band. Instead, most of the music on Preliminaires recalls European pop -- music influenced by music influenced by jazz -- and the lion's share of the arrangements resemble some fusion of Serge Gainsbourg and late-period Leonard Cohen, fitted with a distinctly American accent on songs like "Spanish Coast," "I Want to Go to the Beach," and a cover of "How Insensitive."
For those put off by such things, "Nice to Be Dead" is dominated by distorted electric guitars and "She's a Business" (like the nearly identical "Je Sais Que Tu Sais") booms with martial drumming, (both recall Iggy's moody solo debut The Idiot), while "He's Dead/ She's Alive" is backed by Pop's powerful acoustic blues guitar. Like 1999's Avenue B, Preliminaires is an introspective set, with Iggy crooning in a low murmur as he contemplates the failings of the world around him; he cites Michel Houellebecq's novel The Possibility of an Island as an influence (Houellebecq's words provided the lyrics for one stand-out track, "A Machine for Loving"), and the album is bookended by tunes which Iggy sings in French. Where Avenue B was a pretentious mess, Preliminaires is flawed but significantly more successful; though "Party Time" is mildly embarrassing in its depiction of decadence among the idle rich, the other songs are intelligent and often compelling meditations on a world where love and compassion are in short supply, and if "King of the Dogs" isn't exactly a new sentiment coming from Iggy, it's cock-of-the-walk air fits him like a glove (as does the trad jazz arrangement). Iggy's a better shouter than a crooner, but time has burnished his instrument with the character to fit these lyrics, and the best moments on this disc are truly inspired. Iggy Pop would be ill advised to give up on rock & roll, but Preliminaires shows he can do other things and do them well, and it speaks of a welcome maturity missing from many of his efforts outside the realm of fast and loud.
Words - Mark Deming
In 1983, Iggy Pop's career was in shambles, but an unexpected windfall arrived thanks to Iggy's frequent benefactor David Bowie. Bowie recorded "China Girl," a song Bowie and Pop co-wrote, for his album Let's Dance, earning Iggy some large (and much-needed) royalty checks. Wisely realizing he was running out of second chances, Iggy decided to make the most of his good fortune; he steered clear of drugs, learned to cook his own meals, started putting money in the bank, and used his savings to bankroll a new album. David Bowie offered to help, and together they came up with Blah Blah Blah, the most calculatedly commercial album of Iggy's career.
Like The Idiot, Blah Blah Blah was heavily influenced by Bowie's input; however, while The Idiot was made by a man creating intelligent and ambitious art rock, Blah Blah Blah is the work of a popmeister looking for hits and not afraid to sound cheesy about it. In the liner notes, a member of Duran Duran is thanked for the loan of a drum machine, and that speaks volumes about the production; Blah Blah Blah is slick in a very '80s way, dominated by preprogrammed percussion and swirling keyboards.
Words - Mark Deming
While Don Was is best known for his work with mutant funkateers Was (Not Was), he was also a Motor City boy with fond memories of the Stooges' glory days, and when he was hired to produce an album for Iggy Pop, Was said, "The guy is incredibly intelligent, writes great lyrics, is a great singer, and I just wanted to get that across." And he did: Brick by Brick refined Iggy's gifts without watering them down, adding a polish that focused his talents rather than blurring them. Working with a mixture of L.A. session heavyweights (Waddy Wachtel, David Lindley) and rock stars paying their respects (Slash and Duff McKagan from Guns n' Roses, Kate Pierson from the B-52's), Brick by Brick leans to tough, guitar-based hard rock, leavened with a few more pop-oriented tunes that still speak of a hard-nosed lyrical approach.
But the triumph here is Iggy's; he's rarely sung better on record, finding a middle ground between precision and abandon that honors both and surrenders to neither, and as a lyricist he reached a new level of maturity that proved he could expand his boundaries without loosing touch with his roots. On Brick by Brick, Iggy's dominant theme is the cultural and moral decay of modern America, and finding the strength to rise above it and reach a place in the world. That might sound a bit grand for Iggy, but as a man who sent himself to Hell and back (and learned a few things in the process), he expresses his ideas with plenty of piss, vinegar, and hard-bitten wit. Smart, tough, and impressive on all counts, Brick by Brick was Iggy Pop's strongest work since Lust for Life, and marked a new high point in his career as a songwriter.
Words - Mark Deming
Boasting a big-name producer and appearances from a handful of actual mainstream rock stars, Brick by Brick was a remarkably successful attempt (critically, if not commercially) to create an "event album" around Iggy Pop, so the follow-up came as a surprise -- American Caesar was cut fast and loose in a New Orleans studio, with Malcolm Burn (hardly known for his work in hard rock) in the producer's chair and Pop's road band backing him up. But the real surprise was that American Caesar ranks with Pop's very best solo work. Dark, loud, and atmospheric, it's a far riskier album than Brick by Brick, lyrically following that disc's themes of America teetering on the edge of internal collapse with the same degree of hard-won maturity, but adding a wacked-out passion and force that recall the heady days of Raw Power.
While Pop's group doesn't play with the subtlety of the studio cats on Brick by Brick (I'll leave it to others to debate if they won't or they can't), they also sound tight and forceful, like a real band with plenty of muscle and some miles under their belts. Eric Schermerhorn's guitar meshes with Pop's vocals as well as anyone he's worked with since Ron Asheton, and Malcolm Burn's production is clear and detailed but adds subtle textures that season the formula just right. The hard rockers are full-bodied ("Wild America," "Plastic and Concrete"), the calmer tunes still bristle with tension and menace ("Mixing the Colors," "Jealousy"), the few moments of calm sound sincere and richly earned ("Highway Song," "It's Our Love"), the manic rewritten remake of "Louie Louie" actually tops the version on Metallic K.O., and the title cut is a bizarre bit of spoken-word performance art that's as strange as the entirety of Zombie Birdhouse, and a rousing success where that album was a brave failure. In a note printed on the CD itself, Pop says of American Caesar, "I tried to make this album as good as I could, with no imitations of other people and no formula sh*t." And Pop succeeded beyond anyone's expectations; American Caesar is an overlooked masterpiece.
Words - Mark Deming
Love it or hate it, Beat Em Up is inarguably one of the most appropriate titles Iggy Pop attached to an album in years; after an ill-advised detour into something resembling jazz on 1999's Avenue B, Iggy shifted gears again and served up his most physically punishing album since American Caesar in 1993. Beat Em Up starts out promisingly enough with "Mask," a hyperinsistent three-chord blast that, with its energetic riffing and manic vocals, sounds more like a prime Stooges number than anything he's cooked up in ages. But about halfway through the song, Iggy launches into a hysterical tirade against a number of cultural abuses common to modern-day America, and for every moment that he hits a nail on the head ("Irony in place of balls/Balls in place of brains/Brains in place of soul") there's at least one or two bits you can only hope he's joking ("Junkie frat boys in their shorts!").
And that pretty much sets the tone for the album; when Whitey Kirst's guitar isn't trying to split the difference between Ron Asheton-esque groove and speed metal shred, Iggy is ranting about one thing or another that annoys him until he sounds like a cross between Dennis Miller and the wino on the corner who yells at you when you won't give him a dollar. There are a few numbers where this all falls into place, and "Weasels" and "Ugliness" rock hard enough that you can forgive them when they start to go silly. But it's both ironic and appropriate that the most effective track on the album is the one that rocks the least -- "V.I.P.," six and a half minutes of slow vamp in which Iggy offers a hilarious stream-of-consciousness monologue about the joys of abusing your fame, which is funny and makes its points well at the same time. Beat Em Up takes an approach not dissimilar to what Iggy was reaching for on Brick by Brick and American Caesar, but where he sounded intelligent and thoughtful on those albums, on Beat Em Up, he sounds a like a crank who doesn't always realize he's being funny, and "V.I.P." suggests if he's going to go this route, he's best off directly aiming for laugh.
Words - Mark Deming
Even though Brick by Brick successfully presented a mature Iggy Pop, he evidently felt that he needed to find a different way to grow old after the grungy detours of American Caesar and Naughty Little Doggie. So, he reteamed with producer Don Was, brought soul-jazz hipsters Medeski, Martin & Wood along for a couple of tracks, and crafted the subdued, semi-autobiographical Avenue B. "Craft" is an appropriate word -- the music is often used as background for spoken word pieces, and the entire album strives to be a sophisticated, revealing peek into Iggy's psyche, as if it's him confessing to you in a saloon in the middle of the night.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
As he did on American Caesar, Pop cut these sessions with his touring band (dubbed "the F*ckups" in the liner notes), and they sound solid and enthusiastic throughout, especially guitarist Eric Schermerhorn (aka Eric Mesmerize) and drummer Larry Mullins (aka Larry Contrary). Pop's voice is in great shape, and he seems to be having a lot of fun, especially on the dirty-old man's celebration of "Pussy Walk" and the nervy "Knucklehead." But Iggy Pop the Songwriter wasn't in the midst of one of his especially inspired periods when he was assembling Naughty Little Doggie, and while the music is mostly solid, bare-knuckled hard rock, the lyrics aren't all that special, and it doesn't take long for Pop and the band to run through all the tricks they have on hand. One notable exception, however, is the last track, "Look Away," a low-key remembrance of fellow rock & roll reprobate Johnny Thunders which wouldn't have been out of place on Brick by Brick or American Caesar. Naughty Little Doggie is a solid, respectable, and professional hard rock album, and Iggy Pop could do a lot worse.
Words - Mark Deming
One of the key rules of rock & roll is there are some artists you can never count out -- no matter how many lame records they may make, no matter how misguided their career direction might seem, they always hold the promise that they'll jump back in the loop and deliver the goods again. Iggy Pop delivered a solid one-two punch (for the first time in a while) with Brick by Brick and American Caesar in 1990 and 1993, but after ten years and three major duds in a row (the uninspired Naughty Little Doggie and the strikingly faulty Avenue B and Beat 'Em Up), you just had to wonder if maybe the World's Forgotten Boy had finally lost the magic touch for good. Of course, Iggy's career had always offered plenty of opportunities for such thinking, and just as he had in the past, Iggy came back to shut down the disbelievers with a solid slice of prime rock & roll called Skull Ring. The big news is that, on four cuts, Skull Ring marks Pop's first studio collaboration with the Stooges since Raw Power in 1973, and thankfully Ron Asheton's gloriously primal guitar riffs sound as brilliant as ever, and mix with Iggy's bestial wail like gin and tonic; if "Little Electric Chair" and "Skull Ring" don't quite pick up where Fun House left off, they make it clear the monster that is the Stooges can still shake the Earth when they have a notion.
If the rest of Skull Ring doesn't quite reach the same level of solar plexus impact as the Stooges cuts, Iggy flies high enough on the rock juice that this set blasts like an M-80 from start to finish; Iggy's road band, the Trolls, redeem themselves after their cringe-worthy debut on Beat 'Em Up, electro-punk diva Peaches proves she's just libidinous enough to keep up with Iggy (and they goad one another into truly glorious rudeness), Green Day back the godfather of punk with spunk, enthusiasm, and lots of energy, and even Sum 41 give as good as they get (which is a lot more than you might expect from them). Skull Ring doesn't always capture Iggy at his best as a lyricist, but here what he says isn't half as important as how he says it, and he hasn't sounded this right -- and had music this potent backing him up -- in a decade, and the result is a big, sweaty, high-octane rock & roll session from a guy who practically defined the form. Like I said, you can't ever count Iggy out, and Skull Ring demonstrates why.
Words - Mark Deming