Iggy Pop and James Williamson - Kill City

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:1977-11-01
Iggy Pop and James Williamson - Kill City
Iggy Pop and James Williamson - Kill City

From 1969-73, Iggy and The Stooges managed to bang out a trilogy of albums that set the world on fire. Except nobody noticed at the time. It’s hard to believe now but back then they were simply collecting dust in the bargain bins. By 1975, drugs and alcohol had kicked Iggy out of the Funhouse and into the mental ward. But you just can’t keep a good man down. On weekend leaves from rehab, Iggy embarked upon his first ever solo album. Except nobody knew it at the time. Not even Iggy himself. His career and reputation in tatters, Iggy and his former bandmate, James Williamson endeavored to press on, recording some demos for a new record deal. Through some acquaintances, Williamson finagled himself into Jimmy Webb’s home studio (unbeknownst to Webb at the time). While the results failed to land a deal, they eventually saw the light of day in 1977 when Iggy was making a comeback with pal, David Bowie. Demos they may be, but they certainly make for one hell of an album.

What has become known as Kill City is far more laid back than anything Iggy cut with the Stooges. Williamson’s production and playing, almost too heavily influenced by The Rolling Stones. For what it lacks in go for the throat fury, it makes up for with great licks, atmosphere and darkness. I’d be hard pressed to name another album that manages to capture the dark side of mid-70’s LA than, Kill City. Fear, loathing and desperation haunt these tracks. One cannot only smell the ice cream melting on the sidewalk but the faint whiff of an ocean breeze, the morning after.

Kill City also features some of the best lyric writing of Iggy Pop’s career. As for Williamson, these recordings reveal an artfulness and versatility that the mad likes of Raw Power had no use for. That said, the opening title cut takes no prisoners. “Well I live here in Kill City where the debris meets the sea,” Pop snarls savagely. Yet, more than taking this city on, Iggy yearns to be released from its talons. “Turn the boy loose,” he pleads. However, he knows resistance is futile, “If I have to die here, first I’m going to make some noise”. And what a noise it is.

The mournful, ‘Sell Your Love’, also boasts one of the album’s most biting lines, “Of course I know you needn’t follow amateur pursuits, with any luck I’m sure that soon you will rise from slut to prostitute.”  Whether aimed at an ex-girlfriend or himself, it goes to show the loony bin hadn’t dulled Iggy’s edge.

Like ‘Kill City’, ‘Beyond The Law’ is another strong rocker that perhaps owes a bit too much to the Stones. If you’re looking for defiance, you’ll find it here. Williamson really doing some positively blistering work on the guitar. If any A & R person passed on these demos, it wasn’t because of the material or performances. But because Iggy and the Stooges were synonymous with box office poison.

‘I Got Nothin’ is truly an album standout. Iggy’s vocals searing with emotion and offset by soothing, ‘Oooo’s”. Williamson delivers an irresistible solo. Clearly, there are commercial aspirations at work here. The chilling and fiery ‘Johanna’ ups the ante even more. “I’ve been a dreamer for long lost love,” Iggy bellows, abetted by an infectious riff from Williams. “I hate you baby, because you’re the one I love.” These guys were sitting on a goldmine and listening to the confidence and conviction of these performances, they knew it.

‘Consolation Prizes’ is another solid rocker with some pilfered Keith Richards hooks. Vocally, Iggy slipping into derivative Mick Jagger territory. If it weren’t so committed, it could easily come off as parody. But who can resist a line like, “Keep my weapon clean between your tits”? Despite some classic Ian Stewart piano licks, ‘No Sense of Crime’ sounds far more original. Iggy in fine form. While it verges on ballad territory, lyrically it’s one of the album’s bleakest numbers. “Drugs and death are our place in time,” Iggy croons. Cynical nihilism crops up again on ‘Lucky Monkeys’, Iggy insisting, “I was born crazy, born dead.”

Production wise, this is James Williamson’s baby and while somewhat DIY, it’s a fine showcase for his talents. The demos close with an ironically entitled instrumental, ‘Master Charge.’ An atmospheric coda to what has become a legendary, lost album. True, it’s not quite a masterpiece but bear in mind, this wasn’t intended to be an album at all. More of a calling card for one. If these recordings landed a deal, I suspect they would still be coveted and considered superior to any commercially released record that may have ensued.  There’s genuine passion and focus here. In terms of Iggy’s long and very patchy solo career, it remains one of his finest efforts despite being recorded nearly 50 years ago. He may have been in the mental ward, but he sounds far more together here than he did on Zombie Birdhouse.   

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