The largely untold story of Kill City makes it the most fascinating album Iggy Pop ever recorded. It is also one of his best. Thanks to an effective campaign, not a lot of people really know what Kill City actually is. To set the record straight, it is the “lost” fourth album from The Stooges.
James Williamson had taken over Stooges’ guitar on Raw Power, and his style fit the music perfectly. When he and Pop sat down to write the next one, the songs came quickly. But not quickly enough, because CBS had already dropped them. In the summer of 1975 they began recording demo versions of the songs, to help find a new label with. On weekends Iggy was riding a bus to the studio to lay down his vocals. The rest of his time was spent in a mental hospital, kicking heroin.
The sad truth was that no other labels were interested either. Not long after this, Iggy famously joined David Bowie in Berlin, where his “comeback” would be engineered. Presumably, Williamson had paid for the Kill City studio time, and owned the tapes. Not that ownership seemed to matter much, as the project had been abandoned.
But with Iggy’s star ascendent thanks to Bowie, pioneering indie label Bomp Records became interested in the demos. Williamson was given an advance to get the songs into releasable condition. They were mixed, and various overdubs were added. In November 1977, Kill City was released on Bomp, on vivid green vinyl. The critical reception ranged from complete silence to outright hostility. And that has pretty much been the “official” line ever since. Iggy himself was very likely the main foe, he probably saw Kill City as unwanted competition to Bowie-produced albums The Idiot and Lust For Life.
I am absolutely certain that if Kill City had been properly recorded, it would now be considered a classic. In fact, all of the hosannas that greeted Raw Power’s reissue would have been recycled for Kill City‘s: “Ahead of their time,” “A band at the peak of their powers,” “Godfathers of Punk,” and so on.
Even with the cards stacked against it in so many ways, Kill City is still pretty amazing. Disregarding the three instrumental tracks, there are eight solid Pop/Williamson songs, and every one of them stands with Iggy’s best.
The CD leads off with “Kill City,” picking up right where “Search And Destroy” left off. You could not ask for a better way to begin the follow-up to Raw Power. As “Sell Your Love” shows though, Iggy had more on his mind than just repeating previous triumphs. This is a vicious ballad with lines like, “With any luck I’m sure that you will rise from slut to prostitute.” The thing is, the song seems like Iggy talking to himself more than anyone else.
“Beyond The Law” returns to the explosive style they are so known for, with some great outlaw imagery. “I Got Nothin’” is another step forward, the tune uses wild dynamics and changes tempos at will. Williamson gets off a nice solo midway through it too.
The brilliant “Johanna” is next, and it is simply one of the best songs Iggy Pop has ever recorded. Fellow Detroit madman Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” gets a nod. But it is the addition of some Albert Ayler-inspired sax, ala Funhouse — that pushes this track over the top. Iggy is at an artistic peak, there is no question about it. This song alone makes the album better than pretty much anything that came after 1980, and that includes a lot of records.
On the LP, side one closed, and side two opened with a short instrumental piece called “Night Theme.” Then comes another good-time rocker “Consolation Prize” followed by the mid-tempo “No Sense Of Crime.“ Both seem autobiographical, like “Sell Your Love,” but only Iggy would know for sure, and it doesn‘t seem like he is talking.
“Lucky Monkey” is Iggy’s ode to L. A. starfuckers, and it’s a pretty funny one at that. Finally, there is an instrumental titled “Master Charge.”
Kill City is the most underrated album of Iggy’s career. Conventional wisdom has always held that the album is fatally flawed. Don’t believe it for a second. Any fan of Raw Power-era Stooges is going to find a lot to like on Kill City. It is definitely a reissue worth checking out.