Music Features

Overlooked Albums #12: Iggy Pop - Soldier

When the Stooges were dropped by their record label for the last time after the final rock and roll apocalypse of Raw Power, Iggy Pop - drug-addled and homeless in LA - reconvened with guitarist James Williamson to record a blistering yet largely ignored session that eventually saw the light of day in the late 70s as Kill City. Having exhausted every last drop of his physical and emotional energy, Iggy famously checked himself into a mental institution in a bid to not only save his rock and roll career but also his own shattered existence. Shunned by the fickle music business and pop glitterati of the day, it was David Bowie at the peak of his powers who literally came to the singer’s rescue by producing and co-writing two innovative and artistically successful solo albums in 1977 (The Idiot and Lust for Life), re-establishing an artist now considered one of the great rock and roll survivors.

Upon signing with Arista records in 1979, Iggy released the confident classic New Values, ushering in his “new wave” era; an era for which perspective is demanded but frequently denied. Punk bands had been name-checking Iggy throughout the 70s and his hip cred had never been higher, so it was natural that he sign up international punk aficionados, ex-Pistol Glen Matlock, Ivan Kral of the Patti Smith Group and Barry Andrews of XTC among others, and unleash one of rock’s great overlooked albums - the sneering Soldier.

Enduring a torturous creation, Soldier was recorded at the appropriately named Rockfield Studios in Wales in August 1979, initially with Williamson and Bowie at the controls. Conflicts between the producers led to both of them walking out on the project prior to its completion and the album was ultimately overseen by the late Pat Moran, who had previously worked on Queen's A Night at the Opera and the Rush album, A Farewell to Kings. Iggy is also said to have gotten along so poorly with Rich Kids guitarist Steve New (who reportedly punched Bowie in the face for hitting on his girlfriend) that he stripped most of New’s lead guitar from the final mix, giving the album an eerie and raw, yet catchy, keyboard and acoustic sound throughout - a quality somewhat unique in the overall Iggy canon. And the songs are the most consistent in quality of any Iggy Pop album.

Key track, the proto-Jane’s Addiction rocker, Knocking ‘em Down in the City, fully catches fire, so too the lyrical exorcism of snotty rocker I Snub You and sardonic I Need More with its dramatic declaration, "I need more than an ordinary grind" (don’t we all?). Punky, edgy with a vocal blitz of rabid intensity and conviction proves this is prime Iggy vitriol at its finest, usually with a pleasing comedic twist. Also, the zombie-fied Summertime Blues of killer album opener Loco Mosquito is all kinds of fun; incessantly contagious, the guitar is amazingly just not there. Likewise the minor-key Matlock penned Ambition led by Andrews’ brilliant swirling merry-go-round keyboard and a strumming acoustic guitar; it’s a refreshing change to what we were to be dished up later that decade (see cod-metal plodder Instinct). Humorous novelty and Stooges outtake Dog Food (“dog food is my whole life/dog food composes my wife”), the dark overtones of Mr Dynamite and I’m A Conservative, and weird avant-funk of Get Up And Get Out, are moments of extraordinary surrealism and disassociation. Yet vulnerability spills out over charming album pinnacle, Take Care Of Me, where Iggy in fine voice, sums up his post Stooges self-destruction with the announcement, “Like a laughing hyena I’m out of breath/I shot my rocks off till there’s nothing left”. Elsewhere his adept baritone croon on sinister art-rocker Play it Safe kills, rebuking America’s complacent youth over icy backing vocals by Simple Minds and co-writer Bowie.

Released in 1980, sonic danger still radiates from each and every track on Soldier, living proof of his dramatic growth as a fine rock and roll singer and, despite its amusing suicide commando album cover, presented a solo artist on the brink of a whole new lust for life. The spirited energy within is good reason to warm to this under-appreciated career highlight from rock’s most formidable punk icon.