Iggy Pop | The Bowie Years – Box Set Review

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The Bowie Years, a seven-CD box set, explores Iggy Pop’s Berlin-era music output of the latter part of the 1970s. Featuring remastered versions of Pop’s The Idiot and Lust For Life, the live TV Eye, outtakes, alternate mixes of songs, and a 40-page book, this set is a sprawling collection of music that David Bowie produced, wrote, and played on, helping Iggy Pop gain some real commercial success.

Following the demise of The Stooges, Bowie and Pop buried themselves in West Berlin in 1977, starting work on the latter’s debut solo album. Bowie’s work on The Idiot is often seen as the beginning of his celebrated and very creative “Berlin period” when he recorded a stunning trio of albums — Low, Heroes, and Lodger. Lifting his friend from the blistering yet stifling punk world that Pop had pretty much conquered, bringing the electronic textures and cloying darkness of soundscapes into the studio, Bowie certainly invested The Idiot and Lust For Life with the sound of Berlin in as much mark a new solo chapter in Iggy Pop’s output.

The remastering of The Idiot certainly brings Iggy Pop’s unique low voice to the fore, as well as deepening the metallic swirl of guitar and keys. From the plodding opener of “Sister Midnight,” to the masterful dark roil of “Nightclubbing,” to Carlos Alomar’s upfront guitar riffing all over “China Girl,” (a tune Bowie would tackle on his 1983 Let’s Dance album), and the sexy strut tribute to Pop’s ex-band, “Dum Dum Boys,” to the drawn-out electronic anthem “Mass Production” — we certainly get what Pop described at the time as a crossing of James Brown with Kraftwork.

After the tour for The Idiot, Pop and Bowie got back to record Lust For Life. Opening with the hit title track, we get a much rawer rock sound than The Idiot. Noisy guitar and punk piano push the singer’s Jagger-like shouting on “Sixteen,” a slithering slicing guitar runs “The Passenger,” (another hit from this album), and Pop pleads his best on the 50’s sounding, “Tonight.”

All over The Idiot and Lust For Life, we find so much of what would be the gutsy, dirty guitar sound and post-punk sensibility that would go on to fuel bands like The Talking Heads and Blondie.

TV Eye was recorded during Pop’s 1977 shows in Cleveland, Chicago, and Kansas City. It features Bowie in a minor stage role playing keyboards and includes songs from both The Idiot and Lust For Life, along with a controlled “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to end the set.

The Bowie Years also has three discs of previously unreleased live recordings from 1977 — Live At The Rainbow Theatre, London; Live At The Agora, Cleveland; and Live At Mantra Studio, Chicago. If you have never seen Iggy Pop in concert, these shows prove the man was a performer to be reckoned with. The handful of outtakes, rare recordings, single edits, and alt mixes are fun little curios, and the included booklet is rich with the reminiscences of the musicians who played on these albums. But the meat on the bone of this hefty collection is the remastered versions of The Idiot, Lust For Life and TV Eye.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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