Iggy Pop once again brandishes his freedom on his eighteenth album with the help of mystic maestros Noveller and Leron Thomas.
Iggy Pop. What can be said about this enigmatic agent of id that hasn’t been said before? If you don’t know of his background, catalog, and litany of outlandish and infamous appearances, this isn’t the article for you. Go do some digging, that’ll keep you busy for a while. Other articles written this week about his latest record have spent the whole time pointing out what a giant change this is for the Godfather of Punk to be doing a jazzy album. But that isn’t really true either. Sure, Pop’s four or five biggest tracks are raucous ragers but Iggy is no stranger to the avant-garde. Last year he collaborated with UK house legends Underworld in a Trainspotting reunion of sorts, for an EP that peppers in his spoken word musings to their late-night locomotive techno tunes. In 2012, Iggy put out Après, a covers record half in french, filled with ballads and lounge classics. Back in the hey-day seventies, Pop more than dabbled in progressive, experimental jazz with his partner in crime, David Bowie. Hell, even his most rambunctious rockers have a poetic eloquence to them. “I’m a streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” is on a whole other level than “Hey Ho, let’s go!”.
Free is not the wide-eyed shock to the industry that it’s made out to be, however, it is fantastic to see that the Detroit rock icon is still subverting expectations by working with innovators from outside his normal wheelhouse to find new ground. In 2016, Pop teamed up with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, guitarist Dean Ferlita and Arctic Monkeys Drummer Matt Helders to create one of the best albums of his career, Post Pop Depression. The album split the difference between Homme’s punk rock polka and Iggy’s rumbling baritone croon and created something much more than the sum of its parts. Does Free live up to the brilliance of Post Pop Depression? Well, that’s hard to say, the albums are worlds apart.
On his eighteenth studio album, Pop joined forces with visionary Brooklyn guitarist Noveller and genre-bending trumpeter Leron Thomas to forge a nebulous after-dark mood to compliment Iggy’s low-toned poetic musings. It’s sparse and slinky, sometimes playing fast and loose with ideas of time and structure. He is given ample space to feel around and express himself in his tenured, elder statesmen aura. Much like his french album Après or even his role in Coffee and Cigarettes, Free is Pop fully embracing the fact that we all play a cast of characters throughout our lives. Some people shift their morals and essential core while remaining the same in outward theme while others constantly change styles while never losing their centre. Iggy falls in the latter category.
Free gets underway with the ‘moonlight on tropical waters’ shimmering of Thomas’ trumpet bathed in reverb. Iggy’s statement is simple “I wanna be free”. After all these years and all these incarnations, the motivation for autonomy, self-determination, and boundlessness has not waned but focussed to an unequivocal drive. The brief but affecting intro announces the album as a pensive one. He isn’t clamouring to fill space, he’s letting the record breathe like the common deep breath that it encourages from the listener.
‘Loves Missing’, one of only three Pop penned pieces on the record, is the most familiar in style to Iggy’s brand. A plodding, chugging steamroller armed with the same echoing bullet snare as 1977’s ‘Nightclubbing’. Guitars shing like the blades of a meat slicer. Pop is disaffected but coldly stolid. His dissatisfaction only becoming disheveled in the final crescendo.
Iggy Pop’s relationship with David Bowie is certainly well documented. In addition to direct collaboration, the two would often leapfrog creatively off of one another. Pop would unleash a blistering rocket of a tune and Bowie would try desperately to match its brazen energy. Bowie would craft an eccentric masterpiece and Pop would try to recreate its quirky nuances. On this record, the ducking and dodging beat of ‘Sonali’ with its queasy vibrato synths and verbed-out trumpet sits in the same rarified space as Bowie’s incredible final statement, ‘Blackstar’. However, where Bowie conjured his masterly English presence and occult references to create a track that spanned the ages, Pop’s performance is decidedly more modern with the focus for a good portion of the track on finding parking. ‘Sonali’ breaks society down into its drives from moment to moment, like a time capsule for future generations to look back on as a slice of life. Pop finds a space between his Detroit down on the street jive and the contemplations of a sage.
The album finds its catchiest moments during ‘James Bond’, a sleek ’60s throwback. They cop 007’s signature backup singers and swinging London chic for a role reversal where you’re the “Bond Girl” being dazzled, rescued and ultimately cast off by the protagonist’s Casanova-like ways. A slinky bassline and recurring lyrical tag make this spy-themed ditty a definite ear-worm.
The album treads the line between high brow and low art. Pop may anchor the end of the album with a solemn reading of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’ but he also lets his puerile side come out with his cartoonish, sarcastic musings on the state of the modern pornographic industry with ‘Dirty Sanchez’. The brief 33-minute venture is transportive, it’s meditative, but it also grabs your attention when it needs to be grabbed. Whether that’s Iggy Pop’s steady recitation of Lou Reed’s poetic sermon on ‘We Are The People’ or his reaper-like final thoughts on the closer ‘The Dawn’. Thomas and Noveller showcase their ambient savvy backing him at every turn with an eerie, ethereal elegance. Free is a proclamation that personal freedom must be expressed again and again in countless ways in order to make it stick. Freedom isn’t just a box you check and retain for the rest of your days, you must constantly reaffirm it. For Pop, it’s not balls-out lear-jet rebellion that sets him free anymore, it’s the ability to explore new mental landscapes in whatever form he pleases at his leisure.
Read our post on Iggy’s “PUNK” docuseries.