One seeming goal of Blah-Blah-Blah was to outplay Billy Idol at his own game—a game for which Iggy Pop had drafted the board and written the rules. And it worked: “Cry for Love” and “Real Wild Child” were the best Idol singles released in ’86, while the latter’s B-side, “Little Miss Emperor,” also annexed Idol territory. (“Emperor” was appended* to the CD and cassette versions of Blah and so spoiled the sequencing, as “Winners and Losers,” Blah‘s would-be epic closer, was now relegated to next-to-last.)
On “Emperor,” Erdal Kizilcay gave one of his most ferocious bass performances in the Blah sessions, a thunder-thudding line that locks into (but also pushes against) the Linn programming, and he has some other nice touches: the barren little piano line that transitions from chorus to verse, the synth violin phrase that crops up after Pop’s finished, or the panned L-to-R synth washes at the fade. Even the cliched staccato string samples (the Casio again?) are kept in moderation until the coda, where Kizilcay apparently was given the green light to pad things out for a minute.
Pop’s lyric, with lines like “your open arms they flinch/Joan Crawford style” and which riffs off the opening of Ginsberg’s “Howl,” is fine, if the subject—yet another imperious heartbreaker that Iggy’s obsessed with—is old news. The song’s just a bit dull, with the chorus melody in particular stuck in one gear, and the frenetic mix seems intended to distract the ear. But as B-side material (or album filler) “Emperor” works well enough.
Recorded late April-May 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland. First issued in October 1986 as the B-side of “Real Wild Child,” and on the cassette/CD releases of Blah-Blah-Blah.
* The death of vinyl, well underway by ’86, was hastened by record companies offering conversion bribes in the form of cassette/CD-only bonus tracks. (“Murder by Numbers,” on Synchronicity, is the first of these I remember, though the practice dates back to 8-tracks.) Cassettes had been outselling vinyl since 1983, CDs would pass LPs in 1988, and by the spring of 1989, my mall record store had refitted their LP racks for CD longboxes and left their remaining vinyl stock in milk crates by the door, as if to encourage shoplifters. Bowie did his part, including extended mixes of many tracks on the CD Never Let Me Down, while the first Tin Machine album has two CD-only tracks. So the last Bowie album primarily sequenced for vinyl was Tonight, which is sad.
Top: “Subway, New York City,” 1986. I clipped this photograph from the New York Times nearly a decade ago, and don’t know who took it—if anyone does know, tell me and I’ll add the info. Also: video footage of the NYC subway in 1986.