With a music scene dominated by dreamy eyes, perfect bedhead, and impeccable tattoos, it’s important to remember that some of our rock n’ roll heroes are still alive and kickin’ and they look like leather bags left out in the rain. I am, of course, speaking of punk’s disturbingly nudist grandpa, the one and only Iggy Pop.
This man has been a screaming shirtless beacon of raw power since The Stooges dropped their self-titled masterpiece in 1969, and Iggy has remained one of the most dynamic front men in music ever since. He has always been our “street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm,” but in recent years he’s traded some of his atonal wail for a low and melodious baritone. While there are many iconic musicians these days cashing in with reunion tours and playing their tired hits from 30 years ago, some are shaking off those chains of nostalgia and putting out exciting new work. Luckily for us, a few of our musical icons from the ’60s and ’70s don’t give a shit about pandering to their glory days.
Iggy Pop has done this like no other, reinventing himself again and again. In the ’80s, it was going from the poppy Blah Blah Blah, to the hair metal riffs on Instinct. Then in the ’90s, dropping punishing hard rock with American Caesar and returning to form with some good ol’ scaled-down punk on Naughty Little Doggie. Finally, in the late 2000s, he morphed into a bluesy crooner on the brilliant and largely unknown record, Préliminaires.
This brings us up to 2016 and the release of his 17th studio album: Post Pop Depression. Mr. Pop claims that this may be his last release, and while I hope that’s not the case, it would be hard to argue for a better swan song. The record has that rare quality of being well-crafted and confident without becoming a bogged down, overproduced titanic. Iggy brings his lounge singer swag to the vocals and, along with collaborator and producer Jason Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), they create some strange and surprisingly tuneful art-rock moments over the economical nine tracks.
We open with “Break Into Your Heart”, where Pop’s vocals come right in with heavy reverb and vibrato over an almost sitar-esque guitar riff and promise that for the next 42 minutes: “I’m gonna break into your heart / I’m gonna crawl under your skin”. He fulfills that promise, subtly at first with the Bowie-inspired single “Gardenia”, a solid tune with an infectious groove and harmonious vocals. It feels a bit like safe territory as the record moves on into the spooky marimba keyboard and nihilistic verses of “American Valhalla” with an outro that leaves you with Iggy’s unadorned growl rumbling in your ear, repeating “I’ve nothing but my name”.
“In the Lobby”, a solid lo-fi new age punk track takes us slam dancing into “Sunday”, the strongest song on the album. The track starts with an almost Talking Heads feel, then Pop’s vocals come in with a snapshot of a droll existence working for the weekend then not knowing what to do once you’re there (“This house is as slick as a senator’s statement / This job is a masquerade of recreation / Like a wreck, I’m sinking fast”). The song ends with an unexpected orchestral coda complete with backup singers, horns and a string section, reminiscent of Mick Ronson’s work on Lou Reed‘s Transformer.
The second side opens with the stripped down “Vulture”, which is demo-like and dirty in all the best ways. The almost prog-rock “German Days” and loungey “Chocolate Drops” come after and while they are good tunes, they’re the closest thing to filler on the record.
Fortunately, the album ends big with “Paraguay”, which is as much a statement of a great artist being tired and just wanting to hang it all up as anything I’ve heard. The song marches toward an increasingly angry and profanity-laced spoken word tirade over pounding drums and crunchy guitars. If Post Pop Depression ends up being Iggy Pop’s final statement, then I think he sums it up well in the last 30 seconds of the record with the words: “Free of manners and mores / I wanna be your basic clod / Who made good / And went away while he could.”
Mr. Pop, you made good indeed, but I hope retirement doesn’t suit you. The world has enough basic clods running around, What we need is a bit more shirtless mayhem in our lives, free of manners and mores.
Art Rock/Garage Rock | Caroline Records/Loma Vista