Each week, we take a look at some obscure or overlooked entries in the catalogs of music’s big names. MAGNET’s Bryan Bierman focuses on an album that, for whatever reason, slipped through the cracks in favor of its more popular siblings. Whether it’s new to you or just needs a revisit, we’ll highlight the Hidden Gems that reveal the bigger picture of our favorite artists.
“Parental Warning: This Is An Iggy Pop Record”: There was a time when reading this would have harpooned fear straight into the hearts of any red-blooded American mom or dad unlucky enough to know who Iggy Pop was, or what they imagined he stood for. Every incessant nightmare or despair held by the baby boomers—from Charles Manson to Mad magazine—were projected onto Iggy and his Stooges during their seven-year life span, and they responded by spewing it right back, in a torrent of heroin and glitter, blood and peanut butter. As Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner described, “This was living and being born and coming for your fucking children in the middle of the night right in front of you.”
But to parents reading that same warning in 1993? The same Iggy Pop who played Johnny Depp’s goofy backwoods uncle? The same Iggy Pop who recorded an ode to campy horror villain Freddy Krueger? The same Iggy Pop who sang that love song to the gal from the B-52’s? Really, how bad could it be?
Swinging between these two ends of the spectrum was somewhat deliberate, but mostly a by-product of Jim “Iggy” Osterberg’s wild personal, and career, path. After the Stooges disbanded for the second time, in 1974, Pop was left a broke junkie who spent the next two years floating from couch-to-couch in L.A., trying to get clean, finally winding up in a mental hospital. He soon moved to Germany with his old pal, and fellow addict, David Bowie to sober up—a period in which both men would arguably create their best work. 1977 saw the release of Pop’s first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life, which received rave reviews and have since become classics. Along with a newfound respect as an artist, he shed his image as a drug-crazed madman (which countless up-and-coming punk bands simultaneously attempted to imitate).
Unfortunately, this artistic upswing didn’t last, and after 1979’s great New Values, Pop spent the next few years with a reinvigorated heroin addiction while making mostly terrible records, ranging from watered-down new wave (Soldier) to clunky synth-pop (Party). Though these didn’t sell well, Pop lived off of royalties from songs he penned with Bowie, who had recently turned them into worldwide hits. Pop cleaned himself up, started an acting career, even scoring commercial success with the Bowie-driven Blah Blah Blah in ’86, which he followed with the overproduced hard rock of Instinct.
Hardly anything from Pop’s ‘80s work stands out with the same vigor that he once had. Although they may have started with interesting and experimental intentions, the records were cold and neutered, unfit for a man of his talent. With a now un-hazed perspective, Pop seemed aware of this, and in 1990 recorded his “comeback,” Brick By Brick, with help from producer Don Was. The songs were focused, showing a lyrical maturity not before seen, though the production was a tad too slick. However, the formula worked, and with the help of a hit pop single (the aforementioned “Candy,” a duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52’s), the record became the biggest hit of his career.
But still, something was missing. In a 2010 interview, Pop explained, “I peaked commercially. I’d done pretty well with Brick By Brick and Blah Blah Blah, and I’d lined up a lot of apples in a certain way, but that sort of professionalism—that professional West Coast type of American career that I was beginning to put together—just was a drag … I didn’t wanna do “Candy” live onstage; I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get some kid who can play “Raw Power.”‘ And the next thing I knew, from 1990 on … Stooge-ism and amateurism started slipping back into my life.”