The opening track on Mogwai's Come On Die Young features a sample of Iggy Pop telling an interviewer "You see, what sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise, is in fact the brilliant music of a genius: myself." As pretentious as this statement may sound, for the most part A Million in Prizes shows that it is true. Iggy has always taken an abrasive and in your face approach to rock (most notably in his early works) that delivers incredible and passionate songs under the guise of "trashy old noise."
Spanning his whole career, from the Stooges up 'till his most recent album Skull Ring, A Million in Prizes is a two-disc collection that shows that Iggy is not only the drug-fueled, thrashing, screaming, and bewildering rock and roll monster he is usually portrayed as, but that he is also a musical chameleon. Iggy is able to master numerous styles and sounds and does it all in a way that makes him seem more like a genre course instructor than a bandwagon hopper.
The first half of Disc One covers Iggy's time with the Stooges. Arguably his best output, these songs are raw, filthy, and bubbling over with sweaty energy and spontaneous explosiveness. The guitars are a mess of fuzz and screeching feedback, while Iggy's voice is a distorted battle cry. The production leaves the band completely exposed and they use that to their advantage, showing that "heavy" doesn't come from massive distortion and crunching guitars, but from sheer passion and a "give it 110%" type of attitude. Iggy claims he was inspired by Jim Morrison and Lou Reed, but he takes their dark underpinnings and wild abandon one step further, accidentally stumbling into the realm of what would be punk rock.
The remainder of Disc One covers Iggy's early solo work and has much more of a David Bowie-inspired sound to it, a fact that isn't too surprising considering that Bowie produced the Stooges' Raw Power, was a friend and benefactor for Pop who got him writing again, and once referred to Iggy as his musical "guinea pig." As Disc One closes out, the raw garage punk sound of the Stooges is traded in for a cleaner psych rock vibe. Still, Iggy has that undeniable wild man tone to his vocals.
Disc Two starts with "Some Weird Sin" and "I'm Bored," two songs that seem to act as the bridge between Iggy's Bowie phase and his eventual dabbling in the world of 80's music. Both songs are a mix of funk and sleaze that bands in New York are still trying to emulate today.
Even Iggy Pop couldn't escape the trappings of 80's music. He starts to use larger drum production, more synth backings, drum machines and even a Billy Idol-like sneer. On some songs, like "I Need More" and "Cry for Love" it works well, showing that Iggy has stamped yet another genre with his name, while on tracls like "Run Like a Villain" with its cartoonish rock and "Cold Metal" with its hair metal undertones show that when he gets away from "trashy old noise" he sometimes gets into trouble.
Iggy hits the 90's with two duets, one with Kate Pierson of the B-52s and another Debbie Harry of Blondie. While both are fun pop songs, you can't help but wonder when Iggy lost his edge.
The rest of Disc Two is as hit or miss as Iggy's 80s material. "Wild America" offers a rocking, Sonic Youth-styled track and the two live songs from the Feile Festival in 1993 that show Iggy still rules the realm of stripped-down rock, but the slow and melodically strained "Look Away" and the long-winded beatnik poetry over soft jazz of "I Felt the Luxury" are just disappointing. Luckily, A Million in Prizes closes out with "Mask," the song on the second disc that resembles his Stooges material the most, and "Skull Ring," which brings Iggy back to his Bowie-like delivery.
Greatest hits albums and anthologies are always a little risky, especially for an artist like Iggy who morphed his sound so much. A Million in Prizes might not be everyone's (or anyone's) mix of favorite Iggy tracks, but it is a great overview that makes stops in each part of his long and diverse career. With thirty-eight tracks, you are pretty much guaranteed that some of the material won't be great, but whether you are looking for an introduction to Iggy or just a way to avoid buying his whole back catalogue, A Million in Prizes has enough gems to do the trick.