Ranking Iggy Pop 1977-1991

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.


The best of Jean Renoir

Until the last decade many of the films that made Jean Renoir’s reputation in France moldered in reel-to-reel versions at university libraries. Now it’s clear how astonishingly those 1930s films meshed complementary tones, bawdiness, and a leftism he found indivisible from curiosity: the loving depiction of the improvised co-op in The Crime of Monsieur Lange, the proletarian romance in La Chienne, the beauty and terror of a young girl seduced in A Day in the Country. If he had never written and directed Grand Illusion and, god, The Rules of The Game, Renoir would already have proven himself a worthwhile member of the pantheon.

Flummoxed by the rigid sets and literal methods of Hollywood film production, Renoir made a couple of worthwhile American pictures during his World War II-era American sojourn. The third act of his career, during which his reputation rose to heights from which it has never plummeted, saw a fascinating but often ungainly and strained fusions of realism and artifice; one day I may love Elena and Her Men as something other than a delightful pastry, or can hear past the infelicities of language in The River.

I haven’t seen everything, La Marseillaise and This Land Is Mine in particular. But here’s how I’ve ranked the goods, and the order in which first timers should watch them. Finally, Pascal Mérigeau’s 2012 biography, translated in 2016, is fulsome in every sense — like the master he honors.

1. The Rules of the Game
2. A Day in the Country
3. Grand Illusion

4. The Crime of Monsieur Lange
5. La Chienne
6. La Bête Humaine
7. Boudu Saved From Drowning
8. The Lower Depths
9. Toni
10. The Southerner
11. Diary of a Chambermaid
12. The River
13. The Golden Coach
14. Elena and Her Men
15. French CanCan
16. Swamp Water

The best Lindsey Buckingham songs

Lindsey Buckingham was the singer-guitarist-producer of Fleetwood Mac. He has also recorded a series of okay to good solo albums. The list below encompasses material from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac and solo albums up through Gift of Screws. His new collection includes obscurities like “Time Bomb Town,” a Back to the Future soundtrack contribution that proves he might have done wonders as a synth popper. “Holiday Road” is of course included.

1. Go Your Own Way
2. Trouble
3. Monday Morning
4. Never Going Back Again
5. The Ledge
6. Tango in the Night
7. Book of Love
8. Slow Dancing
9. Johnny Stew
10. Not That Funny
11. Holiday Road
12. Soul Drifter
13. Bleed to Love Her
14. Can’t Go Back
15. Miranda
16. Love Runs Deeper
17. Big Love
18. That’s All For Everyone
19. Turn It On
20. Go Insane
21. Sleeping Around the Corner
22. Time Bomb Town
23. Gift of Screws
24. Eyes of the World
25. Walk a Thin Line

The best singles of 2018

Although The Singles Jukebox is still publishing through next week, I’ve heard enough of the forthcoming songs to know what works; also, I’m tapped out on the singles front, at least five hundred listened to, absorbed, and graded since January 2018, a new record. Unusually, I played the first six entries non-stop, keeping them on my phone for most of the year. This behavior is no indicator of where, say, “Overtime” or “Sicko Mode” will place in my canon: singles and their cultural context, not to mention playback mechanism of choice, are inextricable, and in 2018 I leased a new car that robbed me of a CD player for the first time since the Clinton era. This development forced more reliance on my phone, hence those extra plays for “Powerglide,” which, by the way, sounded terrific last spring and is even better now.

1. Rae Sremmurd, Swae Lee, Slim Jxmmi ft. Juicy J – Powerglide
2. Jessie Ware – Overtime
3. Cassie – Don’t Play it Safe
4. Laura Jean – Girls on the TV
5. Lana Del Rey – Mariners Apartment Complex
6. Travis Scott ft. Drake – Sicko Mode
7. Róisín Murphy – All My Dreams
8. Ariana Grande – Thank You Next
9. Tamia – Leave It Smokin’
10. The 1975 — Love It If We Made It
11. Doja Cat – Mooo!
12. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne – Burning Man
13. Aya Nakamura – Copines
14. Ravyn Lenae – Sticky
15. Let’s Eat Grandma – Hot Pink
16. Arctic Monkeys – Four Out of Five
17. Kacey Musgraves – Space Cowboy
18. Roselia – R
19. K. Michelle – Crazy Like You
20. Ella Mai – Boo’d U
21. Hayley Kiyoko ft. Kehlani – What I Need
22. Tyler, The Creator ft. A$AP Rocky – Potato Salad
23. Shaun – Way Back Home
24. Red Velvet – Power Up
25. Rosalía – Malamente
26. Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
27. Christine and the Queens – Doesn’t Matter
28. Troye Sivan – Bloom
29. Azealia Banks – Anna Wintour
30. Cardi B ft. Kehlani – Ring

Supreme Court keeps its powder dry

Ian Millhiser’s explanation for why the Supreme Court refused to hear two cases brought by conservatives to defund Planned Parenthood makes sense to me, and so does his theory of why Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett “Bart” Kavanaugh sided with the liberal faction to deny certiori:

It’s very doubtful that this equilibrium will last — Kavanaugh’s been very clear that he intends to kill Roe v. Wade. But the Court’s decision to not hear Andersen and Gee gives credence to the theory that Roberts and Kavanaugh want to give the nation some time to forget about how Kavanaugh got his current job before they declare outright war on reproductive choice.

Monday’s order, moreover, is unlikely to protect Medicaid recipients from the Supreme Court for very long. In the long run, some state is bound to violate the free-choice-of-provider provision in a way that doesn’t implicate a group associated with abortion. When that happens, this very conservative Supreme Court will be free to limit this provision without doing so under the close scrutiny it will face if the case name includes the words “Planned Parenthood.”

But the decision does raise a question: why can’t the Democratic Party, now fully stocked with younger and browner legislators who aren’t men, endorse federal legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose an abortion from the interventions of states? Too long has the party relied on Roe v. Wade as a carapace as subsequent decisions have poked holes in it. I forgot where I read that Roe establishes a floor, not a ceiling. Obviously they would need to control the White House and the Senate too. But campaigning openly and unequivocally for abortion rights is a standard to which voters would rally, especially the city and suburban-dwelling Democrats comprising the core of the Democratic base (I’m aware that many Americans squirm around a right to an unfettered abortion, but campaigns aren’t built around nuance).

Finally, natal care gets too little attention. As abortions have gotten safer in the United States, childbirth has gotten more dangerous. I doubt Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump care.

The best posthumous albums

My list of album released after the death of a musician or crucial member of a band. I Googled an online list and it was…longer than I thought. Before looking at it I wanted at most ten and got fifteen. I play these.

1. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (1997)
2. Keith Whitley – I Wonder Do You Think of Me (1989)
3. Aaliyah – I Care 4 U (2002)
4. Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971)
5. Roy Orbison – Mystery Girl (1989)
6. Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos (1992)
7. John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Milk & Honey (1984)
8. Ray Charles – Genius Loves Company (2004)
9. Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel (1974)
10. Marvin Gaye – Dream of a Lifetime (1985)
11. J Dilla – The Shining (2006)
12. Jimi Hendrix – The Cry of Love (1971)
13. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Confrontation (1983)
14. Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)
15. Joy Division- Closer (1980)

‘Green Book’ can’t even get racism right

We’ve failed as a nation if we think Hollywood producers should approve dreck like Green Book. Patronizing, obvious, and animated by a contempt for the intelligence of its audience, Green Book will do well at the Academy Awards, and, indeed, was made for peer approval. Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) looks determined to purge any trace of the raucous comedy of which he’s capable. At least Crash was ambitious. Green Book is that most gruesome of Hollywood hybrids: the comedy with a heart.

That Green Book, named after the twentieth century travel guide for black Americans wanting safe and comfortable passage, insists on the most conventional notions about race relations is one of its grosser ironies. After the nightclub at which he works closes for renovations, Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) lands a job as a driver for pianist/composer Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). An offer to also assume the duties of tour manager Frank swiftly rejects. An amiable dunce quick with his fists, Frank is the sort of casual racist who throws away the water glasses used by the black handymen who visit his home and barely flinches when relatives suggest there’s something fishy about his wife interacting with those same men. So the pair hit the road, with the polished and scrupulously erudite Doc finessing Frank and the lowbrow Frank reminding Doc of the glories of fried chicken. Along the way, to quote Crimes and Misdemeanors‘ cynical TV producer played by Alan Alda, they learn deep values.

With the extra weight, the pursing of the lips with which actors like Jack Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor have suggested palookahood, and the infinite variations of his shrug, Mortensen gives another of his renditions of comfortable masculinity. He’s lucky, for Frank on the page is little more than greasy pasta fazool. Called upon to deliver Farrelly’s horrible dialogue with rounded vowels and a worn imitation of what an actor thinks an educated person sounds like, Ali is less comfortable, and who wouldn’t be with the procession of conventions that Farrelly presents as if they were kittens. Racist Southern sheriff? Check. Uptight musicians who learn to accept the lummox? Check. Doc’s wowing the locals with his technique? Check. He even learns to love Little Richard.

Whether critics judge, say, a book or film create in the sixties using the mores of 2018 is a legitimate debate; what isn’t is Green Book‘s pretending that the mores of the early pre-LBJ sixties need no examination. As Frank’s wife Linda Cardellini sits around the kitchen, charmed by Frank’s ghost written letters. Worse, Farrelly refuses to touch Doc’s homosexuality as anything but a plot point (Frank is dispatched to get him out of jail for soliciting in a public toilet). Black, gay, and a musician? In the 1960s? This is a heavy load for a film to carry, let alone an actor of even Ali’s resourcefulness, but it doesn’t matter. All it takes is a scenic road trip through the South for our differences to erode. If they erode fast enough, we might get lucky and be invited to Christmas dinner.


Singles 12/7

Readers Week, a chance for our audience to pitch songs we missed, has often produced many year-end finalists; I appreciate the second listen I gave “Friends Don’t,” more complex than the title suggests.

Click on links for full reviews.

Maddie & Tae – Friends Don’t (7)
fromis_9 – Love Bomb (7)
The Aces – Last One (7)
Elza Soares – Banho (7)
Zeal & Ardor – Built on Ashes (7)
María Del Pilar – Original Dreamers (7)
Letrux – Flerte Revival (6)
Son Lux – Slowly (5)
PBSR – Volcano (4)
MorMor – Heaven’s Only Wishful (4)
Siberia – Cuore di Rovo (4)
HOLYCHILD – Hundred Thousand Hearts (2)
Yves Tumor – Noid (2)