The Runners-Up is a monthly column, wherein we will analyze an album that isn’t the consensus first choice or most canonical title by a given artist, but is one worthy of more attention than it’s received to date. The album we’ll look at this month is…
New Values (Arista)
After the one-two punch of the creepy, necrophiliac The Idiot and the blustery, rockin’ Lust for Life, released within six months of each other in 1977, Iggy Pop extricated himself from a contract with RCA Records via maybe the most half-assed non-bootleg live album of all time, 1978’s TV Eye. Signing with Arista, he temporarily cut ties with David Bowie (who’d helped shape all three Arista records and was indeed perceived as being the de facto man in charge, creatively, much of the time) and formed a new-old band. Guitarist James Williamson, who’d joined the Stooges on 1973’s Raw Power and stuck around with Iggy to record the demos later released as Kill City in 1975, came back as both guitarist and producer. Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, who’d also played on Kill City, also returned. The rhythm section consisted of Jackie Clark (who?) on bass and Klaus Krüger, who’d previously worked with Tangerine Dream, on drums. This team holed up in Paramount Studios in Hollywood—about as far a cry as possible from Berlin, where Pop had made both The Idiot and Lust for Life—and made 1979’s New Values, a terrific collection of small-p pop songs that’s one the best albums in the Iggy Pop catalog.
New Values kicks off with “Tell Me a Story,” a track built around a hyper-catchy, jangling guitar riff (that’s repeatedly subverted by a weird rattling percussive sound, presumably from Krüger) and a chorus that includes the lines “Me, I’m just a lucky guy/I’m young and free, too dumb to cry.” Throughout the album, the lyrics offer weird, seemingly tossed-off manifestos and assertions of a kind of left-of-center awesomeness. Iggy describes himself as “healthy as a horse/but everything is spinnin'”; explains girls to the listener (“They’re all over this world/Some have beautiful shapes/I wanna live to be 98”); indulges a love of awful puns (“I’m the chairman of the bored”); mourns a life of capitalist oppression (“Oh baby, what a place to be/In the service of the bourgeoisie”). The music, meanwhile, mixes punkish rock with punchy, soulful horns, throwing in totally unexpected instruments at times (violin, harp). The art/prog-rock “The Endless Sea” is driven by creepy synths and Krüger’s Faust-ian drumming. A few tracks seem like deliberate moves toward the mainstream, albeit a weird Iggy-esque version of same: “Don’t Look Down” could have been recorded by the Rolling Stones during their mid ’70s doldrums (if not necessarily released until it got to be “deluxe reissue” time), and “Angel” is a piano-and-strings-and-female-backup-singers ballad reminiscent of Alice Cooper‘s “You and Me.”
The first seven tracks on New Values—”Tell Me a Story,” “New Values,” “Girls,” “I’m Bored,” “Don’t Look Down,” “The Endless Sea,” and “Five Foot One”—are damn close to perfect, hitting the listener straight in the forehead, one after another. Things fall apart a little after that, though; “How Do Ya Fix a Broken Part” is a weak ballad, despite its lyrical desperation, and “Angel” is followed by “Curiosity,” an uptempo track that’s nevertheless the biggest throwaway on the record. And then there’s “African Man.”
“African Man” is one of those tracks you can only really explain away by saying “Well, it was the Seventies.” Musically, it’s pretty great—Brian Eno had yet to introduce David Byrne to African music, so nobody else was fucking with this kind of slinky Afrobeat groove when Iggy latched onto it. Unfortunately, he did so in the service of lyrics like “I eat a monkey for breakfast/I eat a snake for lunch,” “Go home you dirty white man/I hate the white man,” and actual ape-like grunting. It’s impossible to understand how it ever got released. But there it is, the penultimate track on the album. The last song, “Billy is a Runaway,” is one more jacked-up punk/New Wave rocker telling a story about the drug-addled title character that Lou Reed or Jim Carroll would have nodded sagely upon hearing. And/but even if these final two songs are part letdown and part baffling misstep, the album as a whole is one anybody just getting into Iggy needs to hear, and a definite refuge for those disheartened by his insistence on sullying the Stooges name with albums like The Weirdness and Ready to Die. New Values packs more genuine greatness into its first 25 minutes than any Iggy Pop record since, and is well worth your time.
Two singles—”I’m Bored” and “Five Foot One”—were released from New Values, and primitive late ’70s music videos were even made. Here’s the clip for “Five Foot One”:
And here’s the “I’m Bored” video, in which Iggy ’79 looks (and dances) remarkably like Mick Jagger ’81:
Stream New Values on Spotify:
Well said. I’d say Iggy had at least one more great/weird album that deserves another listen with 1982’s Zombie Birdhouse. Its penultimate track “Street Crazies” could arguably fill the slot that “African Man” did on New Values, only now with no 70s to blame.
Great album. Favourite track Don’t Look down, sounds like a take from Kill City another great. Whose is that soulful backing vocal on Don’t look down-my favourite moment on it.
I love Iggy a lot but, I also don’t understand how African Man even CAME to his head, let alone releasing it within an album. I really hope he was drugged…
Well written, anyway! 🙂