Album Of The Week: Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression
In Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the movie that introduced Iggy Pop to ’90s kids like me, there’s a scene where Renton and Sick Boy are splayed out in a park with an air rifle, and Sick Boy is explaining his unified theory of life to Renton: “At one point, you’ve got it. Then, you lose it. Then it’s gone forever.” Reeling off examples, he mentions two of the names in the proto-punk holy trinity: David Bowie and Lou Reed. The one name he doesn’t mention is Iggy Pop, the only one of those three left standing. (At another point in the movie, Renton has to explain to a teenager that Iggy Pop is still, in fact, alive.) The Scottish junkies of Trainspotting wouldn’t have made that point about Pop; in Irvine Welsh’s original novel, they all regarded him with a certain religious veneration. But the theory fit Iggy Pop way better than it ever fit Lou Reed or David Bowie.
When you look at the last 35-or-so years of Iggy Pop’s public life, shit is rough. He hit his ’80s/’90s pop peaks with “Real Wild Child” and “Candy,” two perfectly OK songs that methodically strip away everything that ever made Iggy Pop interesting. He played a villainous henchman in The Crow: City Of Angels. He recorded with Buckethead and Death In Vegas and John Hiatt. He reunited with the Stooges, and now 40 percent of the Stooges’ albums are deeply forgettable reunion affairs. He sang on American Idol. There have been flashes of greatness — the Repo Man theme song, the recurring role on The Adventures Of Pete & Pete, the guest vocal on Cat Power’s “Nothin’ But Time.” But mostly, Iggy Pop has avoided the public perception that he’s fallen the fuck off mainly because his presence — leathery and sly and venomously charismatic — remains so powerful. When you look at the actual work he’s been doing, he hasn’t exactly done his legacy a whole hell of a lot of favors. So it’s pretty exciting to learn that, at least in this one case, it wasn’t gone forever.
Post Pop Depression, Pop’s new album, is, consciously and almost explicitly, a reclamation project. But there have been Iggy Pop reclamation projects in the past, and they haven’t always worked out. It might’ve made sense when Pop went to work with various Guns N’ Roses members on his 1990 album Brick By Brick, but when you throw Iggy Pop’s voice over big, dumb rock riffage, he becomes just another rock singer. Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who spearheaded the new album, is certainly capable of generating big, dumb rock riffage. But he’s also canny enough to know when that’s not what a project needs. And he’s an Iggy Pop fan, which means he knows that the Iggy Pop that could be reclaimed isn’t the unhinged Stooges Iggy of the man’s youth. Instead, it’s the Berlin Iggy. In the late ’70s, David Bowie convinced Pop to stop one downward slide, recording two albums with the man and restoring his career. (Come to think of it, those Berlin years might’ve been the one Iggy Pop reclamation project that really, truly worked out.) The Idiot and Lust For Life, the two albums that Pop recorded with Bowie in 1977, found Iggy coming off like a drug-dipped lounge lizard, wondering aloud about his old comrades on “Dum Dum Boys” but tapping into some new futurist industrial drug-rock rhythms. The Idiot, in particular, is skeezy and dank and ugly, and I probably return to it even more than I return to Fun House or any other Stooges album.
That’s very much the sound of Post Pop Depression. Homme and Pop recorded the album in secret at Homme’s Joshua Tree studio, and they did it with a tight, winnowed-down backing band: QOTSA/Dead Weather multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, absolutely nobody else. Homme has done plenty of work with both those guys, and they were perfectly able to conjure the debauched-but-restrained mood that the album required. This band doesn’t riff, exactly. They vamp. They put together these interlocking, lurching grooves, with Homme’s scraped-out bass and serrated keyboard doodles acting, for the most part, as the instrumental leads. Even when Iggy Pop isn’t singing, the band never lunges forward to grab the spotlight. Instead, the musicians stay in the cocaine-hangover pocket and give Pop room to maneuver. The grooves never sink as deep as the ones on The Idiot, but that’s just not a realistic yardstick. They do recall that album’s power, and that’ll do well enough.
Pop is more a presence than a singer. His voice is remarkably well-preserved — a burnt-umber baritone that insinuates a whole lot more than it ever says — but he never sings, exactly. Instead, he intones. He comes up with some truly memorable turns of phrase — “This house is as slick as a senator’s statement / This job is a masquerade of recreation.” He turns “when you get to the bottom, you’re near the top / Your shit turns into chocolate drops” into a chorus. And he’s also a very convincing creep, especially in the way he fetishizes a black woman on the single “Gardenia.” “Your hourglass ass and your powerful back / Your slant devil eyes and the ditch down your spine,” he purrs, before pleading, “All I wanna do is tell Gardenia what to do tonight.” It’s a disquieting power-fantasy of a song. But then “China Girl” was a work of pure fetishization, too, and nobody ever holds that against Pop or against Bowie, who later turned it into a massive hit. And indeed, it’s almost impressive that Iggy Pop, at this late date, is still capable giving off those creep-out vibes.
Pop hasn’t quite come out and said that this will be his last album, but he’s certainly broadly implied it: “I feel like I’m closing up after this. That’s what I feel. It’s my gut instinct.” And if Post Pop Depression does turn out to be Pop’s final album, it’s great that he could go out on such a nasty and spirited and vital note. There will be a whole lot of talk about “Paraguay,” the album’s last song, which ends with Pop ranting at the listener: “You just take your motherfucking laptop and shove it into your goddamn foul mouth! And down your shitheel gizzard! You fucking phony two-faced three-timing piece of turd!” A few seconds later, still in rant mode: “I’m sick! And it’s your fault! And I’m going to go heal myself now!” If those are his parting words, they’re a fitting end to a squalid, messy, ferocious career. But Pop’s most evocative moment on the album comes during the song “American Valhalla.” The music drops away, and Pop mutters, “I’m nothing but my name” over and over, like a personal mantra. It’s the sort of opaque statement that his old friend Bowie could’ve used on his own 2016 swan song, Blackstar. It’s a line that’ll leave us wondering about that name, about the man attached, and about how we’ll feel about him after he’s gone.
Post Pop Depression is out 3/18 on Loma Vista. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Baauer’s guest-heavy dance party Aa.
• Gwen Stefani’s pop comeback and divorce album This Is What The Truth Feels Like.
• Former Smith Westerns frontman Cullen Omori’s solo debut New Misery.
• Primal Scream’s charged-up boogie-rocker Chaosmosis.
• ILoveMakonnen’s dependably stoned Drink More Water 6.
• Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bitchin’ Bajas’ trippy collab Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties.
• Lust For Youth’s synthy postpunker Compassion.
• Damien Jurado’s contemplative, conceptual Visions Of Us On The Land.
• Glenn Jones’ bucolic fingerpicked acoustic instrumental Fleeting.
• Underworld’s dance-rock comeback Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future.
• Public Memory’s foggy, beat-driven debut Wuthering Drum.
• Soft Fangs’ skeletal, lo-fi The Light.
• Boris and Merzbow’s uncompromising collaboration Gensho.
• The Body’s stark experimental metal bun-out No One Deserves Happiness.
• HÆLOS’ stylishly gothy debut Full Circle.
• Cantique Lepreux’s black metal debut Cendres Célestes.
• Producer Dave Cobb’s all-star country compilation Southern Family.
• Gun Outfit’s Two Way Player EP.
• B Boys’ No Worry No Mind EP.
• Drug Pizza’s Return To Content Mountain EP.
• Eliza Shaddad’s Run EP.