Iggy Pop’s, Bowie Produced, Berlin Years Music Gets the Overdue Reissue Treatment it Deserves

Iggy Pop | The Bowie Years | (Virgin)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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Iggy and the Stooges fans who excitedly split the cellophane shrink wrap on Iggy Pop’s first solo release from 1977 expecting a follow-up to 1973’s classic Raw Power, probably thought the wrong vinyl was put in The Idiot’s cover. 

Instead of the raw, raucous, grinding guitars that propelled such frantic Stooges burners as “Search & Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” they heard the moody electronics of “Sister Midnight,” “Nightclubbing” and others.  Plenty happened in that space between the end of the Stooges and Pop’s debut solo stint. Those four years found Pop cleaning up (somewhat) his wild living, then moving to Berlin with friend David Bowie who used many of the same musicians on his own, similarly styled Low and Heroes sessions to produce, co-write and record Pop’s The Idiot.

What once was a head-scratching career turn for both men has, over the decades, taken on the prestige of classic music. The combination of Pop and Bowie’s somewhat incompatible talents resulted in something neither could have created on their own. A brief tour found Bowie as an almost anonymous backing musician in Pop’s band, followed by a return to Berlin to record its successor, the tougher, harder edged Lust for Life

Despite the superior, now iconic, music on these two discs, they didn’t sell well enough to keep Pop signed to RCA (not coincidentally Bowie’s label at the time). The three album deal closed with TV Eye a quickie, poorly recorded live set from the 1977 tour. That’s where Pop’s so-called “Bowie years” stayed…until now.  

Likely encouraged by the attention, and dollars, any recording with the word “Bowie” in it achieves, it’s time for this short but influential Iggy Pop era to receive an expanded make-over. That means remastering both The Idiot and Lust for Life, tacking on a platter of cobbled together rarities, and adding three concerts from Pop’s March, 1977 dates. The lowly TV Eye is also included in what is now a bulging seven disc, $100 box. (Double platters of the two studio albums, packaged with a live show are also available for those with lighter wallets). 

It’s a long-awaited exploration of this prominent period in Pop’s decades long career. Both releases maintain their timeless eeriness. The addition of the Hunt and Tony Sales’ rhythm section to Lust for Life (Bowie later hired them for his Tin Machine project) proved perfect foils for Pop’s rawer instincts as can be heard in LFL’s throbbing “Sixteen” and “Fall in Love With Me.” Tracks from The Idiot such as “Nightclubbing,” “Funtime” and especially “China Girl” stayed in Pop’s live shows for years and have been covered by other artists with Bowie’s version of the latter a major hit. 

The hat-trick of newly available live material infuses substantial samplings of Stooges tracks with the Berlin material, all cranked up a few notches from their recorded versions. The nine songs (and a short Pop interview) on the rarities disc (that includes a few inconsequential single remixes, edits and alternate mixes-none revelatory) could easily have been tacked onto the albums that birthed them, which would have lowered this set’s price. And TV Eye still sounds as ear-cringingly abrasive as it did. The audio is barely improved for this reissue of what always sounded like a bootleg quality recording. But the three new live shows have markedly better sound. 

Although few realized it at the time, this was to be a milestone in both Bowie and Pop’s careers. Those who haven’t absorbed this music yet will find it to be as edgy and intense as anything in Pop’s catalog, and deserving of the lavish treatment it receives here. Bowie fans, especially of his darker, experimental Berlin recordings, will also find this a welcome and even essential addition to his own classic albums of these storied years. 

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