David Bowie

Album (1977)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am


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The Idiot
Iggy Pop

Few artists can claim to have created a new genre of rock through just one album. Iggy Pop, however, did it twice.

Arguably, his debut record with The Stooges (titled The Stooges) in 1969 forged the template for the 1970s punk movement. And then his first solo outing, The Idiot, provided the mould for the more adventurous and artistically febrile post-punk movement.

It encoded the futuristic tenets of the late-70s, early-80s movement that took punk's DIY ethos and applied it to a greater variety of musical styles and gave rise to bands as diverse as U2, ABC and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

With Iggy's partner in crime, David Bowie, at the helm, The Idiot's synthesis of electronic effects, motorik beats and droning vocals helped convey the seedy twilight lives the pair had created for themselves in divided Berlin, where they had decamped in the mid-70's. Together with Bowie's Low and Heroes, both also released in 1977, The Idiot pioneered a style adopted by post-punk's earliest purveyors.

According to Howard Devoto - a founding member of two of post-punk's most important acts, the Buzzcocks and Magazine - Iggy and Bowie's Berlin-era purple patch inspired his own music. Those 'albums had a huge effect on me,' Devoto recalled in Simon Reynolds' history of the genre, Rip It Up and Start Again.

The Idiot is, from start to finish, a thrilling and terrifying ride - a raw shopping list of Iggy's achievements and disappointments: the acrimonious dissolution of The Stooges, his history of drug abuse and the heady lifestyle.

In songs such as Nightclubbing, Funtime and Sister Midnight, the brutal yet hypnotic Kraftwerk rhythms, coupled with the near-baritone croon that Iggy crafted for the album, recount the doomed decadence of Germany during the Weimar Republic, the last vestiges of which he and Bowie lapped up in the wall-divided German city.

Dum Dum Boys, with its crawling, sickly guitar riff, sees Iggy dragging over the ashes of The Stooges and, it would seem, lamenting the band's demise. The song's opening lines - a grim roll call of death, drug and booze casualties among his one-time band members - are among the most painful and brilliant ever recorded.

The only whiff of forward-looking optimism comes with China Girl, an account of his infatuation with his girlfriend of the time, Kuelan Nguyen. Even, this, however, comes with a gloomy caveat: the infatuation has been interpreted as a reference to heroin addiction, the title being a nod to the 'China white' variety of the drug.

It's impossible to quantify how important The Idiot - and Bowie's Low, which followed - was to the music of the next two decades. The synthesised sounds - borrowed from the likes of German acts Kraftwerk and Neu! - were central to post-punk's electronic wing. The 'new pop' of the Human League and their Sheffield cohorts and the Essex hub of synth-pop, from which bands such as Depeche Mode launched their bids for stardom, are unlikely to have existed without Iggy's masterpiece.