LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn

image

It’s been a crazy fall… Iggy Pop’s latest album Free came out over two months ago, early September to be more exact and I’m just now getting around to saying something about it… I realize I’m late, but I feel this music merits some attention.

Now, let me start off by saying, people, don’t fear the Iggy. It’s no secret that I grew up in the American midwest. Iggy Pop wasn’t played on the radio out here. We really had no concept of what his music was like or who he was. People knew his name but he was some noise-making punk who only people in New York and underground rockers knew anything about. When I was in college, listening to vaunted “college radio” they didn’t even play Iggy Pop out here. I’m not sure you could even find his albums in the midwest… I wouldn’t know, I never looked for them. The first time I saw or heard any Iggy Pop might have been when Carnival Cruise used “Lust For Life” on their commercials. Well, actually that can’t be true, I’m sure when I was in college, up all night partying, I had to have seen Iggy Pop on MTV at some point. Most evenings ended with me staring mindlessly and drunkenly at music videos, eating a microwaved Chuckwagon sandwich… Yeah, I was a real chick magnet.

Iggy, aka James Osterberg, hails from Detroit Rock City. He was a pioneering hard rock/punk singer in the legendary band the Stooges. The Stooges never really caught on in the mainstream, but they did catch the ear of one, David Bowie. Bowie mixed their last album, the legendary Raw Power. All my life I heard about Iggy and I heard about the Stooges and yet it took me forever to summon the nerve to check him out. Every rocker looking for some credibility name drops Iggy and/or the Stooges – GnR have covered the Stooges and the Chili Peppers are big fans of the Stooges. Iggy and the Stooges have a built-in cool. I urge everyone to check out the Stooges first three albums, The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power. That’s some menacing, fucking music there.

After the Stooges imploded, Iggy found himself at loose ends. He decamped to Europe with Bowie where they continued their creative partnership. Bowie produced Iggy’s landmark first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life while also working on his own “Berlin Trilogy.” Iggy has had more ups and downs in his career than most rock and rollers. If there’s anything that has been consistent with Iggy, it’s his inconsistency. After those first two superb albums from the 70s, it wasn’t until the early 90s that he put out two, back to back, solid records, Brick By Brick and American Caesar. I loved his last album, produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Post Pop Depression. It’s the best thing he’s done since those first two albums with Bowie, Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”.

I was somewhat surprised when late this summer I heard that Iggy had a new album out. Post Pop Depression had sounded like a retirement notice to me. I mean, how long can you hop around on stage without a shirt on? On the new record, I was hoping he was collaborating with Josh Homme again, but no, Iggy has decided to take a stylistic left turn with this new LP, Free. He started collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Noveller (real name Sarah Lipstate) and perhaps more importantly in terms of the sound of this album, jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas. Iggy’s music has always been very guitar-riff centric. Iggy is loud and aggressive, in your face rock n’ roll, hence his influence on so many punk bands and heavy metal bands at the same time. That harder rocking sound is not the sound here. The music, for the most part is hushed. In many cases Iggy goes spoken-word vs singing. The solo’ing here is all on trumpet, not on guitar. This record has a jazz vibe to it. You get the feeling of wandering down into a basement in the Village and catching a beatnik reading poetry over musical accompaniment.

I realize at the outset here, that this album won’t be to the liking of a lot of you faithful B&V readers. This album is different on so many levels. When the Post Pop Depression tour was over, Iggy was physically and (it sounds like) spiritually exhausted. He was longing to be free from it all… Fittingly, the new album starts with its title track, “Free” which upon first hearing, I thought, maybe the cops need to drop in on Iggy to make sure he’s ok. It might be time for a welfare check on ol’ Iggy. It’s the sound of a muted trumpet with Iggy merely repeating the phrase, “I want to be free.” Ok, so it’s not “Lust for Life,” but on an emotional level, I was drawn in. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and every time the Rock Chick walks by and hears it she asks me if I’m ok?

The next three tracks are amongst the best Iggy tracks ever. They’re the reason I’m writing this post. I know many of you will breeze past this post and probably this music, but this trio of songs are tracks everyone should hear. “Loves Missing” sounds like it could have been an outtake from Post Pop, sinewy guitar over a slinky rhythm section. It’s a straight up, mid tempo rock song. The next track, “Sonali” has some of the most poetic lyrics of Iggy’s career. It’s a softer track where Iggy is practically crooning. He sings in a lower register. The song is ethereal…it just takes me places, “we must find parking, or stay on the freeway, stay in your lane, that’s what you want…” This shimmery song will be studied in college music classes. It evokes a certain sadness in me that I’ve become fond of over the years… The third track in this knock-out trio is “James Bond.” “James Bond” just makes me smile. It’s catchy as hell. It’s upbeat and Iggy keeps singing, “She wants to be your James Bond, its not for a price and it’s not very nice, she wants to be your James Bond.” I love the melody, I love everything about that song, especially the bass line. I even love the trumpet solo instead of the traditional guitar solo.

Unfortunately, the next track, “Dirty Sanchez” is a rather jarring misstep. It starts with mariachi horns. Iggy sings in an almost strained manner. I don’t mind vulgarity, but the line, “just because I like big tits, doesn’t mean I like big dicks” is a little juvenile, even for me. The sing-along with the backup singers becomes pretty annoying. “Glow In the Dark” is better, but he never gets back to the level of those three landmark tracks that kick things off. “Glow In the Dark” has an insistent bass line and some nice trumpet. It’s lyrically strong. The whole album, save for “Dirty Sanchez” is lyrically strong. The themes of isolation and loneliness pour out of this album but it’s not grim…despite the line, “your sense of community is going to kill you.” “Page” is another strong track lyrically. Iggy digs deep and once again goes to a deeper vocal register here. “Dreary causes, yield all the applauses, you’ve done it before, you’ll dread the encore.” It’s nice to hear an artist express his world-weariness in musical form.

The last three tracks is where I think I’ll lose most of you. They’re all spoken-word tracks. Iggy puts a poem by Lou Reed to music in “We Are the People,” While it was written before Reed died, it certainly maintains political relevance today. Iggy said he’s giving voice to other artists on this album, this is what he’s talking about. He then put some musical accompaniment to a reading he did of poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which if you’re going to have someone wave their fist at death and “rage against the dying of the light,” it ought to be Iggy Pop. “The Dawn” is also a spoken word thing… I know, it’s not to everybody’s taste.

Iggy Pop is an important artist. The sooner you set aside any fear of this music the faster he’ll expand your mind. This is an interesting, challenging album. I love it but I’ll understand if most of you don’t agree with me on this one!

Cheers!

 

Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”

MI0004014188

 I won’t lie, this one took some home work. There are some artists I just think you have to be “ready” for as a listener. Either it’s a maturation of your tastes, or a change in your thinking that causes the re-evaluation of the artist, or maybe something just “clicks.” For me, it’s often just one song by the artist that I happen to hear (usually on satellite radio) and it causes me to completely reassess the artist’s entire catalog. Something about the artist crystalizes for me.

I have not traditionally been an Iggy Pop fan. You won’t find me, like Anthony Bourdain recently, strolling down Miami Beach, shirtless with Iggy, whilst in whispered, almost religious terms discussing the meaning and influence “Raw Power” had on my adolescent years. This either makes me unqualified to review this album or uniquely qualified to judge it on it’s own merits. Again, it’s about that timing thing. Someone gave me a greatest hits package of Iggy’s a few years ago and I was largely unmoved. I guess I just wasn’t “ready” for Iggy. I was always more a fan of punk rock’s effect on music in the 70’s, pushing the existing artists out of their mid-seventies malaise, than the actual punk music itself. Over the years I’ve gotten into the Ramones, but only mildly. I love the Clash but they were more of a great rock band with a punk ethos to me. I always feared punk music would sound like a cat in blender… I was terribly wrong about that. I love the stripped down, primal energy of punk rock. It’s lack of polish is often the best part of the music. Rock music, like all art, needs to be dangerous.

In parallel, I was never really into the Queens of the Stone Age. I do respect their “musician’s band” ethos. I was in my car a few years ago, and a local DJ had just received a copy of QOTSA’s “…Like Clockwork” album and she was playing the entire thing, start to finish. Afentra, the local DJ (truly the last great DJ on air), couldn’t contain her excitement. She’d stop the album after each song and talk about what she’d just heard. It was real old school DJ style. I loved that record and went out immediately and bought it. There are some stand out songs on that album, but like a Pink Floyd record, it feels better when you listen to it as a whole vs just a song at a time. An event like that would usually send me on a buying spree through the entire QOTSA catalog, but I don’t why, I just never investigated them further. I now know I must rectify that omission. Maybe I wasn’t ready for them either…

I must admit, my new interest in Iggy Pop and “Post Pop Depression” was piqued because of his connection with David Bowie. Bowie was one of the Stooges and Iggy’s early fans and benefactors much like he was with Lou Reed. He produced Iggy’s two first solo albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” and many of the reviews and articles about this record have referenced Bowie and Iggy’s relationship and collaborations. I have a huge soft spot for Bowie right now, I’m still not over that loss, much like Prince. Since many have suggested similarities in those early Bowie-produced albums and “Post Pop Depression” I felt compelled to go back and listen to them, in order to have a frame of reference for the current work.

Collaborations are a funny thing. I don’t think you ever find any collaboration to be a 50/50 proposition. Maybe some of the early Beatles compositions were really John and Paul trading lines but that quickly faded. Dylan dominated his collaborations with the Band. So too are these Bowie/Iggy collaborations. First and foremost, I have to say both of those early albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” are, and I don’t say this often, fucking brilliant. I don’t know how I missed these records. You didn’t hear a lot of Iggy on the radio in Kansas. However, I would say “The Idiot” sounds more like Bowie was the lead collaborator. I’m not suggesting Iggy didn’t contribute, but he’d just come out of a mental institution and was regarded by many as a foot note and was probably not in the most confident place. “The Idiot” feels like Bowie leading Iggy out of the wilderness. “Sister Midnight” immediately sets the tone for this superb album. I like Iggy’s version of “China Girl” as much as Bowie’s later version. Iggy’s second record with Bowie at the production helm, “Lust For Life” feels more like Iggy was driving the car. It’s louder and more rocking. Iggy sounds more confident on this record. It has more of a Stooge-y feel to it. Their both great, but you can tell whose influence was stronger on each album. “Tonight,” from “Lust For Life” has a great Iggy rant before the song starts that Bowie later described as “idiosyncratic” but it’s a stronger version than Bowie’s version done years later.

Which all leads me to “Post Pop Depression.” This is a great, great album. I must say, the choice of Josh Homme and QOTSA as collaborators was an inspired one. While I said earlier that most collaborations are generally lopsided, this one feels equal parts Iggy and equal parts Queens. The music is muscular and rocking, although nothing really as hard as the Stooges. The lyrics are dark but provide a giddy pleasure to listen to. Iggy brings a brilliant subversive element in his lyrics. You can hear the “fuck you” sneer in his vocals. After an up-and-down career, Iggy brought his A-game to this collaboration. When he says, in “American Valhalla,” a stand out track, “I’m nothing but my name,” you believe him. The album kicks off with “Break Into Your Heart” and this album really does that. “Sunday” captures some of that atmospheric, cold funk that the Bowie-produced albums captured. “Chocolate Drops” is my favorite song here. I can’t stop humming that song. I love it when a mature, established artist comes up with an album this fantastic.

In the last song, “Paraguay,” Iggy sings about dropping everything and moving off to be alone and it is awesome. “Tamales and a bank account are all I need, so count me out.” I think we’ve all been there. The end of the song turns into a rant from Iggy. He says, “There’s nothing awesome here, not a damn thing.” If this is, as has been rumored, Iggy’s last album, it’s a hell of a goodbye. I can totally relate to that song, on levels I’m afraid to admit to myself. Although I don’t think Iggy will ever be just a “basic clod.”

The thing that was so rewarding for me in this experience was going back to those early recordings, “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” to frame “Post Pop Depression” and I can say this record holds up very well in comparison. You don’t need to do that to enjoy this record, but it was sure fun to do so. I grew up in Kansas, “The Passenger” was not in high rotation so this allowed me to make up for that. Sometimes when an artist puts out a late career gem like this one and you realize you’re finally “ready” for them, it can be a wonderful thing. Now I have the glorious duty of going back through not only Iggy’s catalog but the Queens Of The Stone Age catalog as well… It’s going to be a fun summer.

I can only hope Iggy has at least one more collaboration with the Queens Of The Stone Age left in him… I’d sure like to see these guys work together again. It’s a Hell of an album. This one is a strong, strong recommended buy.

So, buy this album, turn it up loud, pour something strong, stage dive from the couch, break something glass and Enjoy!

Cheers!