On the three albums he recorded for Arista Records in the late '70s and early '80s, Iggy Pop often seemed to be going out of his way to sound like a commercially viable rock musician, or at very least someone who was not quite as strange as his public reputation led people to believe. In 1982, after Iggy's contract with Arista lapsed, he was offered the opportunity to work with Blondie mastermind Chris Stein, who not only produced Zombie Birdhouse, but originally released the album on his own short-lived Animal Records imprint, and Iggy seemed to approach the album as his opportunity to let loose with every musical and lyrical impulse that wouldn't have passed muster on the label that gave us Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston. After the perverse attempt at a dance-pop album that was Party, Zombie Birdhouse certainly seemed like the right idea; Rob DuPrey, who handled the keyboards, guitars, and programming and wrote most of the music, came up with a set of interesting pop tunes, skeletal but full of ideas and sharp angles, often suggesting a less pretentious and more emotionally direct corollary to the arty approach of the David Bowie-produced The Idiot. But sadly, Iggy himself didn't rise especially well to the occasion here; his lyrics are often a bizarre mélange of free-association without any clear focus, and one senses that Stein was a bit too awed by working with his hero to have the nerve to tell him when his vocals were wandering off-pitch (or out of tune altogether). Zombie Birdhouse was in many ways a noble experiment, and it's never less than interesting, but it also rarely works the way it's supposed to; ultimately, this album's a failure, but it's certainly one of the most interesting and ambitious failures of Iggy's career, which ought to count for something.
© Mark Deming /TiVo