When people think Iggy Pop, they mostly think Lust for Life. Pop’s second album, released on August 29, 1977 is easily his most successful and most commercially recognizable. It spawned multiple hits, achieved critical and commercial success, and helped set Pop further on the path to stardom.
The main strength with Lust for Life is also its main problem: David Bowie. Bowie wrote the music for seven of the album’s nine tracks. Bowie is a talented composer and the album shows that: there may be some mediocre songs, but there aren’t any complete duds. But the album can’t shake the fact that it sounds like a Bowie album. Especially when Pop sings in a higher register, the songs feel like they were Bowie b-sides or Bowie rejected tracks that were simply passed off to Pop. The lyrics are also Bowie-esque. Though Pop wrote the lyrics, “Some Weird Sin” feels like it would fit in perfectly with Bowie’s Berlin era output: a track about standing on the edge, uncertain of what to do while feeling otu of place. Lust for Life succeeds the most when Iggy Pop sounds like Iggy Pop instead of Iggy Pop doing David Bowie.
One of the top tracks is the title track itself, “Lust For Life.” It’s an amazing opening track for the album. Big, loud, high energy and raucous, “Lust For Life” starts the album off with a bang. It’s a rock & roll anthem about drug addiction, delivered in this brash, devil-may-care type of attitude, with a riff and drumbeat so good it was ‘borrowed’ for another popular song: Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” Pop puts so much chutzpah, such a swaggering confidence in the song that you can’t help sing along. He makes this horrible thing sound damn sezy. Out of all the songs on the album, “Lust For Life” is the one that’s exploded into pop culture, used in movies, video games, and commercials for banks and cruise lines, most of which happily ignore the lyrics about alcohol and heroin.
And yet, a few songs later, it’s contrasted with a softer song: “The Passenger.” These two songs show the range Pop gives the album. He can be brash and swaggering but at the same time, he can be beautifully laid back. “The Passenger” is a simple song, just about driving through the night. The repeated guitar riff only adds to the idea of riding and riding, sounding a bit monotonous at times, but in a way that works perfectly with the song’s road trip aesthetic. It’s simple yet brings the songs to new heights. Pop’s voice also sounds like a car trip–an odd analogy, I know, but Pop keeps “The Passenger” within a short range. Entire phrases consist of words sung on one or two notes. The beautifully simple and repetitive tune matches the beautifully simple and repetitive lyrics. “Everything was made for you and me,” Pop intones. Likewise, the harmonies on those repeating “la la la’s” layer over each other in such a relaxing way. “The Passenger” is one of the few songs with music not composed by Bowie, which continues to set it apart from the restaurant.
Lust for Life has an impressive set of writers and composers behind it as well as an equally impressive delivery, arrangement, and performance. At least in my mind, it certainly deserves the praise it’s been given and definitely deserves it’s place among the pantheon of Great Rock Albums.