Top positive review
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Sucking sugar, plain and sweet
on 21 January 2014
I feel I've contained my ire regarding the knee-jerk view of this album long enough. Almost from the moment it was released, supposed Iggy fans (pretenders all, I say) have been slagging this album off for being 'commercial'. What does 'commercial mean in this context? It means having a sheeny 80s hi-def production and a focus on melody above distorted guitars.
Wrong. The most 'commercial' thing Iggy could do is release another poor Stooges re-tread. His latter-day fanbase has been raised to think of him as merely 'A Godfather of Punk' and nothing else. Well, kids, Iggy was a Godfather of Punk Rock - and Punk Rock was about originality, not the formula it became, the formula called 'punk'. Punk Rock was more than just 3 minute, amateurishly played songs about politics. No, that was punk and boy was it boring, a slavish imitation of Punk Rock.
Consider the context for 'Blah Blah Blah'. Iggy has made the three Stooges albums, the massively underrated 'Kill City' ( although credited to Pop and Williamson, it's really a fourth Stooges album). There's no lack of melody on 'Kill City', nor are songs like 'Gimmie Danger' and 'Dirt' lacking in moments of yearning emotion expressed through melody either. Then the Bowie diptych of 'the Idiot' (genius) and the uneven but great 'Lust For Life'. The albums that follow are up and down, with moments of brilliance and lots of turkeys. For every 'Don't Look Down' and 'Houston is Hot Tonight', there are two stinkers.
Then Bowie covers 'China Girl' and Iggy gets lots of royalties. Good news! Tired of being a 'screw up' in record company eyes, Iggy records 'Blah Blah Blah', most of it written with Bowie, who co-produces the album with his sideman David Richards and Turkish multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay. Bowie is in his least creative period, but compared to most artists of his vintage in the late eighties, there are still moments. Think about it - we despair over Bowie from 83-90ish because the work is disappointing compared to the 70s. But look at out other 70s idols at this point - Alice Cooper, Lou Reed...both producing stuff far less significant than their high points too.
Back to 'Blah'. Well, the other reviewers here who decry the record as 'pop' or say 'Only one song is good -'Shades'' or utter such statements as 'songs about nothing in particular' - simply have cloth ears. Try listening to the record! If you can recognise 'Shades' as a great song, then an appreciation of at least 'Fire Girl', 'Isolation', 'Cry For Love' and 'Little Miss Emperor' is inevitable if you play them a few times...and then, there's the fabulous, impassioned lyrics, every bit as big and bold and meaningful as the huge melodies and soundscapes themselves.
So to me, the decriers of this album are (in Iggy's words) 'Status seekers- I never cared/once I found out they never dared/ to seize the world and shake it upside down/ and every stinking bum should wear a crown' ('Cry For Love'). Iggy challenges the consensual, status-quo version of him that shallow 'fans' have in mind. There has ALWAYS been more to Iggy than simple off-the-chain Wildman - he's an artist of light and shade, not just darkness. In this album, Iggy's lyrical eloquence and majestic baritone voice are to the fore, showing him as a singer of classical quality - after all, Morrison was a balladeer too and no-one influence Iggy more.
I'll admit the album gets off to a slow start with its most throwaway track, big hit single and cover version 'Real Wild Child', followed by 'Baby, It Can't Fall', arguably the weakest original on the record (still a good song though). But with 'Shades', things rack up, the album never backing down from its plangent, massive, anthemic songs that see Iggy railing against injustice, expressing passionately his desire and loneliness and stating without obfuscation his opinion that authentic living is the only way to live. One caveat; the title track owes a certain something to 'Lust For Life' with its morse-code riffing and as good as it is, it's the most disappointing track, punctuating two batches of killer tracks.
Much of the album sees Iggy desperate for, or in, love (nothing new here, we experienced this in tracks from the Stooges like 'I Need Somebody', on this album they're expressed differently, that's all). 'Cry For Love' is a mighty assault of integrity, a refusal to back down:
'bad TV that insults me freely...(....) ...in searching for a meaningful embrace/sometimes me self-respect took second place' (man, in relationships, we've all been there) and 'soldiers kill for love and nobody admits it'
..and naysayers, listen to this one 'Cry for love/'cause imitations boring,'. Well said, Iggy. This is a co-write with Sex Pistol Steve Jones, a man who admits to having a 'lonely soul' (see the documentary on the Pistols last UK show in Huddersfield 1977). Jones also wrote 'Winners & losers' with Pop, a big rocking Bond-theme (sans cheesiness) song ..."black motorcycles/the will to survive/winners and losers/which one am I?". Great stuff.
Then there's the flip side of 'Winners & Losers', the hopeful, outdoorsy optimism of 'Hideaway', with its breezy realism, acknowledging pain, but revealing hope in its magnificent middle eight: 'I can hear children's voices/ringing in the yard/when I hear children's voices/my feelings aren't so hard'. Suffice to say, Iggy's own voice here is lush and glorious. Manly stuff, kids.
However, it's the lovelorn ballads that really kick. Much as I dig 'Cry For Love', the yearning sensual pulse that is 'Fire Girl' pleads and cajoles, then the tragic and heartbroken 'Isolation' just puts your soul to death with its honesty. As a picture of build-them-up-then-knick them-down lead-on/betrayal game played by some would be lovers, this is something ('Needed you/you were only using/needing you just/wore me down'. Sad, but true...
'Shades' is well known and - of course - utterly brilliant, but its b side 'Little Miss Emperor' (included on the CD as a bonus - it wasn't on the vinyl LP originally), a synthesizer-driven paen to a proud, stubborn girl Iggy is in love with, is pure bourbon on ice. Fabulous.
Throughout the album, there are soaring vocals backing Iggy's own huge voice - I've always thought that Bowie's voice is prevalent here, although he's not credited. Sounds like David to me and I'm sure it is him. Best thing DB did in the latter half of the 80s, that's for sure.
So, leave your 'punk' preconceptions aside and LISTEN to the songs and that impeccable voice. Iggy followed this album with the melodically, lyrically and existentially similar 'Instinct', this time with Jones replacing Bowie. Since then, his best albums have been his most atypical ones - 'avenue B', 'apres', 'prelinaires', all of which break the mould of expectation.
Quite simply, you're NOT an Iggy fan if you dislike 'Blah Blah Blah'. It's every bit as important as 'Fun House', 'Kill City', 'the Idiot' and 'Instinct'. All you have to do is listen to the lyrics and marvel at the singing... bliss!!!
Stephen E Andrews, author, '100 Must Read Books For Men', '100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels'