I haven’t heard 1980’s Soldier, but I made do. Special thanks to Phil Freeman, whose rankings are his own but he had shrewd insights about all of them.
1. The Idiot (1977)
For a while Lust For Life sounded like the better album: it was faster, had loud guitars, and moved. Now I prefer his debut because it’s slower, has loud keyboards, and plods. In recent years accounted as a Bowie album in all but name, The Idiot has a humor of which only James Osterberg was capable (“Funtime”) and a literalness that was beyond Bowie: “Nightclubbing” is not a metaphor, it’s about nightclubbing. I blame Bowie for “China Girl,” a crummy arrangement. The rest of The Idiot reproduces the sensation of keeping your wits as your sobriety crumbles; often it’s better than that, as the concluding pair “Tiny Girls” and “Mass Production” demonstrate.
2. New Values (1978)
To show he didn’t need Bowie, Igs writes half the tunes himself. “An album whose punk genes,” I wrote five years ago, “are exposed not by the arrangements, which suggest Mott The Hoople wrestling with horn charts and percussion, but in in Iggy’s contrapuntal, staccato vocals and the way in which he comes at rhythm sideways; the guitar on “I”m Bored” even sounds like a pretzeled Captain Beefheart bit from the same era straightened and desalted.”
3. Lust For Life (1977)
Taking its cue from its zombie-smile sleeve, Lust For Life presents an Iggy nominally ready to pierce through the narcotic fog of his previous Bowie collaboration. When the splat of “Some Weird Sin” is happening and the call and response vocals of “Success” keep going beyond their abilities, it’s the most alert album in rock — no one has earned the right to be this buoyant for so long. I’ll take Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of “The Passenger,” though.
4. Blah-Blah-Blah (1986)
Chris O’Leary’s upcoming book will cover the history of Bowie’s reunion with Iggy in 1985-1986; his blog posts on Blah-Blah-Blah inspired me to reevaluate an album forgotten by history. Blah-Blah-Blah is no sellout: it’s an attempt to bring Iggy to an AOR landscape dominated by the Georgia Satellites and Steve Winwood; indeed, the zealous backup vocals on the wonderful “Hideaway” rebuke “Higher Love.” “Real Wild Child” was a deserved comeback — no chorus, just Kevin Armstrong’s light distortion. Closer “Winners and Losers is his most impressive since “Mass Production,” with Erdal Kizilcay’s Middle Eastern swirl and Kevin Armstrong hitting hard those strings.
5. Brick By Brick (1990)
Maybe the presence of white-hot B-52’s singer Kate Pierson helped Iggy get his only top forty hit in America to date. The rise of VH-1 and the commercial renaissance of boomer icons like the Stones, Dylan, et. al. explains the enthusiasm for Brick By Brick, produced by Don Was (who would also produce the mentioned icons) and on which the L.A. studio rock elite (Waddy Wachtel!) provide Igs with his most professional backing. Much of it is performative maturity (“I Won’t Crap Out”), signified by the choice of a John Hiatt cover, Hiatt himself the choice of many a Poppy Bush Interzone recording artist when they sought the comfort of roots rock maturity. “Starry Night is Iggy attempting John Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb” with Mellencamp’s drummer.
6. Zombie Birdhouse (1982)
In which Blondie’s Chris Stein settles into the Bowie spot. However, Blondie in 1982 had reached the sodden nadir of their genre experimentation, an approach that suite Iggy Pop like a bowler hat and spats. “Run Like A Villain,” a first draft of 1986’s “Real Wild Child,” kicks off this frustrating collection — the loopy country-influenced “The Ballad Of Cookie McBride” has Iggy trying a lugubrious southern accent over pedal steel, for example. “Platonic,” with its synthesizer line from the Berlin Trilogy period (think “Weeping Wall”) is a better “mature” song than what he’d essay on at least a third of Brick By Brick eight years later.
7. Instinct (1988)
The single was called “Cold Metal.” Apt album descriptor too.