Blah-Blah-Blah marked a turn in Iggy Pop’s career, going from cult figure to telly regular and everybody’s favourite godfather of punk. I was about seventeen then, and although I’m sure I was aware of the name, really it was this album that served as my main introduction to the man.
Massively over-produced by David Bowie and recorded at Queen’s studio in Montreux, the synth-heavy Blah-Blah-Blah has more in common with Bowie’s then-recent output and Roger Taylor’s solo material than The Stooges. Given that Taylor receives a thanks in the sleeve-notes “for loan of his Linn” and the album is engineered and co-produced by Taylor/Queen collaborator David Richards, that shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Clearly, the idea was to take Iggy out of the underground with a sonic makeover inviting comparisons with the likes of Japan and Simple Minds et al, and with rock’n’roll cover Real Wild Child giving him his first major UK hit single, the formula clearly worked. It also provided opportunity for a couple of contributions from the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, who would take a more central role on Instinct. However, as producer and with co-writing credits on seven of the ten songs here, it’s Bowie’s influence that is all pervading.
Side one is solid if pretty underwhelming. Real Wild Child kicks it off and it still holds up as a fun pop record (insert your own pun apology here), if some of the synth stylings now seem gimmicky. Baby, It Can’t Fall is more of a Bowie-type thing and Shades is archetypal 80s pop with an alternative bent. Fire Girl however is a Europop misstep, like Erasure with marginally less rubberwear, so it’s a welcome return to the Bowie-lite for Isolation.
The album really lifts its game for side two. Cry of Love is a good driving post-punk rocker, more Iggy than Bowie, it mixes up the guitars and strings nicely and there’s a Steve Jones solo to boot. It’s probably true to say that the title track’s use of sampling now sounds naive and overdone – again, gimmicky – but all-in, it’s a welcome burst of energy with some fine lyrical flourishes (“following my nose, I’m a bull mongrel – that’s me”). Hide Away sounds like it could be an outtake from Roger Taylor’s 1985 Strange Frontier (also co-produced by David Richards). No bad thing, mind. Winners and Losers, though, is the album highlight for me by a distance. Steve Jones co-writes (he also co-wrote Fire Girl, but let’s not dwell) and it’s a lengthy, aggressive and fittingly guitar-heavy piece of Big Rock Drama. Little Miss Emperor again sounds like a Strange Frontier outtake this time with an Arcadia twist. It’s a good track but after the pomp of Winners and Losers it feels like a bit of an afterthought.
Following Blah-Blah-Blah’s success with the meat-and-potatoes rock of Instinct couldn’t have been an obvious move at the time. Bill Laswell takes over as superstar producer and Steve Jones is promoted to sole guitarist, co-writing three of the ten songs. Tellingly, the remaining seven are Iggy Pop sole-credits. Much of the album seems to take its lead from The Cult’s throwback rock outing of the previous year, Electric – retro riffing on a straight-ahead rock template. Cold Metal and Strong Girl especially hit the spot while the more aggressive Easy Rider works a treat. Tuff Baby is pure Eliminator-era ZZ Top and it’s kinda great.
Instinct does allow itself a couple of very slight left-turns. Lowdown, with its cheesy keyboard augmentation, is a near pure-pop track which could have been a fit for Blah-Blah-Blah, as could High on You which sounds more than a little like Billy Idol’s White Wedding and suffers for it. Instinct and Squarehead are conspicuously punkier than anything else here. Both great tracks, it’s Squarehead that provides a quality closer for what remains a very solid rock album.
I caught the tours for both Blah-Blah-Blah and Instinct and Iggy was brilliant on both. The first time, to me he was still a bit of an unknown quantity with a relatively characterless band. The Edinburgh Playhouse was stowed and the bouncers were being prize fannies. Still great. Second time was rockier, heavier, with a band to match. Giving Iggy a bit of competition in the rock mentalist stakes, Andy McCoy was the guitarist (which suited me – I liked Hanoi Rocks and loved the Cherry Bombz). Glasgow’s Barras was the perfect venue as well. One of my favourite gigs, that one. Iggy remains one of the greatest performers I’ve witnessed, though oddly I’ve never seen him live since. Blah-Blah-Blah and Instinct began a strong run of releases along with the superior Brick By Brick and American Caesar, cementing Iggy’s position as an international treasure. Quite right too.