Kill City - Iggy Pop & James Williamson (Alive Naturalsound/Bomp)
The first record I ever reviewed was "Kill City". That was back in 1977 for Self Abuse fanzine. I wish I had a copy of the article so I could compare how I felt then and how I feel now. I wrote that review because everyone I knew was slagging this off at the time. West Coast bland was the popular consensus. I didn’t agree and I wanted it down for the record.
I loved this record in a way I have loved few others. It sounded like a man pushed to the edge of the world and left to die amongst decadence, disease and desperation. It was the sound of a man sitting poolside with a needle stuck in his arm. If you’ve ever thought you were the kind of person who was born with his skin on inside out, this was the record for you. It is so emotionally raw that you knew somewhere there was someone who felt the same as you and had bothered to send a post card.
Iggy said he hated it but continued to play songs off it in his live set long after more familiar songs had been discarded. James Williamson went off to get a real job. A hundred lesser artists stole and plundered ideas from it. Eventually, enough people came around to grant the disc classic status. So why re-release? Why dig it up and fiddle with it? Surely such behaviour only ends in disaster?
Well, what can I say? It is all pretty much the same except it’s a hundred times better. It’s like seeing a city as a fog lifts. It’s like seeing an old friend after you’ve just got a new pair of glasses. Everything this album was is still there. Everything new is an improvement. I don’t know how many of you have been in a studio and heard the dull sounds of a rough mix lifted to clarity during the mix. That is what has happened here. If you don’t own this, now is the time to remedy that. If you thought you owned this, now is the time to upgrade.
My final word is this. I would probably have listened to this album at minimum once or twice a month for the last thirty years. After hearing this re-mix, I can’t imagine listening to the first mix again. Yes. It is that good. - Bob Short
Kill City Comes Home to the 21st Century:
Are ya tired of your straight job? Has your “relationship” become one with the other's mirror? Do you find you're “soothing the savage beast” more than pounding a naked breast?
You need a dose of “KILL CITY”. C'mon and take a trip to Los Angeles, coming down after a 15-year youth bender, sunshine tabs easing into the dark underbelly of an end-of-the-continent night. Iggy did it and James Williamson did it. And now you can do it too, courtesy of the *new* remixed and reloaded KILL CITY, a Bomp label new century re-release that sounds more cohesive, more evocative, and more vital 30 years later with a new sonic handling directed by original sessions producer James "The Skull" Williamson, the IEEE man of the year, himself.
Once sadly mis-characterized as a desperate forced collaboration between a drug poor, temporarily insane idiot savant and a cash-poor, slickly exploitative wanna-be engineer, KILL CITY emerges in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century as an amazing document of artistry and cooperation in its time. And it's a document with a definite story to tell. A time and place of lives in a decline, in a city perched at the far end of the hemisphere and the beginning of a vast ocean. Minds living on the edge of the night, LA, California, mid-1970's, USA.
I've been listening to this LP for some 30 years, always on the turntable, and the digital gloss of James' first retirement project hits straight in one's aging Michigan-via-California guts. Whether new tracks, uncovered tracks, remixed tracks or parts that were just left off the green vinyl abortion, this mix brings the record to a bright glare of new millennial technology, and I won't hesitate to say it's a fucking masterpiece, then or now.
For one thing, the album rocks, and not just for its subject matter nakedly detailing a crash through dissolute rebellion, let down and escaping failure, somehow coasting forward to survive and progress. The rhythm section is at its best when Iggy mainstay collaborator Scott Thurston picks up the 4-string, but drummer Brian Glascock is admirably solid with a minimum of flash. Remember he's following up Rock Action here. Thankfully all the usual hacks were probably playing on Eagles' sessions whenever Gary Webb was able to squeeze James & Jim's vision into his Dad Jimmy's studio. whoa, triple J's.
Even noted Stooge scholars are in the dark as to how the LP was put together, but it clearly was layered at different times, with Iggy's performance being channeled at propitious moments. Somehow James was able to find his way to wax ″one of the first indie records ever released″, in his own words ″by all measures a desperate effort″. The add-ins update a basic sound most accurately described as Raw Power, and what sounded a bit fey and overdone then now fleshes the songs out with a minimum of digital stringiness. There were some cheap studio tricks, it's true, but what made the LP originally different is given new clarity under and over. Most of all a wicked tenor sax, sometimes double and triple tracked, that brings Stooge brand r&B to Iggy's tortured fate in Los Angeles.
″Johanna″, one of Iggy's most loved hate songs, if only for the well-known utterance of ″i been a bitch/and i know it too″, has an elemental huge rock blues. This is some stomping stuff, James' guitar comes up thru Texas, adds muscle-bound Memphis Gibson riffage, and overloads the sax work by John ″The Rookie″ Harden until we feel like Ike Turner's Olds 88 has come screaming out of Ohio in a Mann Act violation and plowed out of control into the Detroit River, back where its steel was forged. All the while Iggy with one scream for one girl. Even the formerly awkward piano break (once again courtesy of Scott Thurston), more sonically integrated here with gutbucket guitar, seems to carry more meaning and less affect. Where the hell did James dig this studio agglomeration up? The only illusion is to the ″Count Dracula Society″ but let's hope he didn't just mean bloodsuckers, although there's always plenty in LA.
All of the sax-fueled triumverate of “Sell Your Love”, “Beyond the Law” and “Johanna” evokes rock roots while updating raw power to mid-70’s gloss. “Sell Your Love” has that awesome triple-tracking tenor, sounding even better on the re-do. The nuclear blastoff, ″Beyond the Law″, has always been a Iggy/Stooges fan favorite, a brass-enhanced grooving muscular threat full of hate for straights that stakes out a claim for eternity. Iggy's challenge...
So when they say our vibes are bad
They're running scared and looking sad
...is made clear in the printed lyrics booklet (free with every order!), not only takes in his condition but fronts resistance past and future. Has the echo on ″can anybody hear me when i call″ gotten even bigger? More power to it then. And the song does sound great live, as heard by lucky Europeans and maybe a few Americans (though not Californians, dammit) during Stooge Tour 2010, when the sax part was lit afire by the great Steve Mackay, even voiced full throttle from his corner in the back of the stage. The new version ends more powerfully, a massive chorus with the last moments of Iggy's stand going out with a full-throat scream.
There's danger in our honesty
'cause trouble comes to those who're free
Sure enough we know trouble now … ″the real scene is out beyond the law
There's a shitload of good songs here. It’s a fuckin’ CONCEPT album. While the original release seemed to shrink in power until it finally expired, now tunes like ″Consolation Prizes″ (an awesomely deep and detailed song that punches up its glammy slink with some truly memorable couplets) and ″Lucky Monkeys″ lyrically illustrate the depths both Jameses found themselves in, washed up on the shoals of LA and looking for an abandoned boat to row the hell out of there. It's nice to have printed words to detail Iggy's struggle, but at the end of a song like ″Monkeys″ there is no substitute for his legendary skill, interlacing rhythm and words with an improvised swelling gravity croon that presents a chilling picture ...
i'm just on number 7
I work this world one one eleven...
I was born dead crazy
Born crazy born dead …
Born dead dead crazy
The beautiful ballad ″No Sense of Crime″, a song that probably launched a thousand hair metal bands, digitally punches up James' sophisticated steel guitar work to throw dramatic light on lives crashing down in tandem on the California Southland's endless concrete tie-up ribbons.
Drugs and death are our place in time
Restless and running blind
Good and bad/
Lies we done
Makes us so touchy
It makes us cry
Aand we're gonna feel good inside
Even the instrumental ″Night Theme″, which originally linked the two sides of the vinyl, surprises with newly distinct 'modern' keyboards putting polish on funky r&B. In fact, I was certain that music and lyrics have been added to this tune (perhaps now called ″Livin' in the Night″) as performed in Chicago in August, but everybody else who was there swears there was no such thing, maybe I was just high, or on dragonflies, or something like that in the sweaty sold-out Riveria Theater hard by Great Lake Michigan as Stooge Power took us all away in the dark.
We've also got some sweet pictures of both Iggy & James (once again, free! with every LP purchase), separate and together, in washed-out LA landscapes and dissolute temporary rooms seen in their reflected faces, as the pure Cali end of continent light floods in from outside.
Whatever the reasons were for the method, these songs were formed and crafted, fully loaded with the tenor of the times (not just talking about the saxophone here either), and if Iggy had to come out of penurious dubious and damaged circumstances, that only adds to the power of the music and the story and the artefact produced, “KILL CITY”.
Let’s recognize a true myth here. In the paraphrased words of the Roman poet Ovid: Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. It builds itself a nest and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. It then lifts its nest from the tree and carries it from the Kill City to the Sun City in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun, where it is associated with the Sun God RA. It is said that the bird's cry is that of a beautiful song.
Hear the song and the story. Get your copy today! You won't regret a trip to KILL CITY. And you might just learn something about your (bad) born dead crazy self. - ig ("eye gee")
he hands are up in the air. I'm surrendering. I can't top the review that i.g. has so lovingly penned. I can only concur, fall to my knees and say: "He's right".
"Kill City" has been a staple around these parts, too, for a long time. Too many years to count. It was always a murky record, and although I had the LP (in green!) it was the digital convenience of the CD that I'd turned to in recent years, just to spin it for old time's sake. Regularly. Every play underlined the fact that, yes, they'd fucked up big time when they turned this 'un into a shiny silver platter.
In spite of that, the music had a ragged desperation that was never forced, its lyrics dripping with matter-of-fact tales of decadent drugs, seamy sex and more than a little defiance in the face of doom, both imagined or real. No shitty digital transfer could rob it of that. It had character and soul.
But now it's all about the re-mixed, re-mastered re-issue and Strait James has done one bang-up job. It's sharp and rough-edged but stunningly clear in all the right places. The little touches - odd pieces of percussion, highlighted guitar runs and stunning sax - bring out the tones and adds emphasis. The lyrics sheet is nicely done but not needed. You can hear what Iggy's on about.
If you'll excuse the all too obvious metaphor, "Kill City" circa 2010 is like a deeply damaged patient checking out of detox after a long stint. The scars are evident. The skin is a sickly pallor but the scales have fallen off the eyes; it's lost the shakes and its vision is steely and clear.
"Sell Your Love", "Johanna", "I Got Nothin'" and the title track always did it for me. Each has been improved by judicious tinkering and some modest polishing. While "Night Theme" was like an intermission on the LP, the reprised version is a perfect springboard into a rejuvenated and monstrously great "Consolation Prizes". "Master Charge" seemed a superfluous add-on when placed at the end of the LP. Here, it works as an optimistic resolution.
I could bang on about this all day but if you've read this rant and the previous review then you're probably already a parishioner in the Church Of The Converted. If you're not, wise up. "Kill City" sits proudly beside its Stooge predecessors, now making perfect sense as the album that band never did make. It's a rare breed: A remix and re-issue with a reason. Grab it and see if I'm (we're) wrong. - The Barman