By Katie Preston
It's been a precarious journey for Iggy Pop and I was there for none of it. Yet, here I am writing a review for his 17th studio album and what sounds like his swan song. I ask myself, where are my scruples? I tell myself, I don't know, I just love Iggy. As Post Pop Depression sinks in for me and everyone else, the nine songs make you wonder how it all sits with the old man himself. I truly only got into Iggy Pop a few years ago. He and the Stooges were sharing the stage with a couple of my favorite bands; the Replacements and Dinosaur Jr. Besides Raw Power and Lust for Life, I hadn't really followed Mr. Pop's career but that night Iggy and the Stooges stole the show. He in his mid-sixties, I in my mid-twenties, I almost forgot this guy has decades on me as he gallivanted around like nothing's happened. Like he never got naked and rolled around in glass, or recorded a couple of albums almost entirely in French. That's why I love Iggy, and why his newest album, Post Pop Depression spooks me in all the right ways.
The album is like riding on a series of desert highways; there's not a whole lot out there to jump at you but the terrain is gorgeous, in a weird way. The songs are distinct, largely in part because of Pop's decision to enlist Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Even without much background knowledge of Mr. Homme, it's apparent that his sonic intuition is wildly complimentary of Iggy. In fact, Homme is complimentary of Iggy in every way, endearingly so. In interviews he's attributed Pop as one of his biggest influences. To round out the band are Homme's bandmate, Dean Fertita on bass and Arctic Monkey's Matt Helders on drums. The musicianship is nothing short of what you'd expect from veterans. If anything, you might expect some good old fashioned power-group showboating, yet their minimal instrumentation gets the message across just fine. With Homme producing the album and playing guitar, this is arguably the most polished Iggy Pop album ever.
The opening song "Break Into Your Heart" is soaked in nostalgia and the band makes sure you feel it too. I learned that before he and Homme began recording, Pop mailed him a box of creative writing, songs, detailed notes about his past and anything that might bring Homme closer to his vision. Curious cats like me might want to know what was in the box but just in hearing the songs, you start to get your own ideas. "Gardenia" kicks in and immediately my mind goes to Berlin in 1977, where Pop made two classic solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life, with his late friend David Bowie. It's been said that Post Pop Depression picks up where these two albums left off years ago. In "Gardenia," there's a distinct nod at Bowie's heavy influence on Pop as the electro-pop synths tremble forward into "American Vahalla" -- punchy, pentatonic and all held together by Pop's salted-taffy vibrato. I picture him crooning this tune while rowing along, Phantom of the Opera-style through a candle-lit city sewer. Pop's lyrics have never been a big selling point for me but delivery is in most cases more important anyways. So far, he nails it on both fronts. Especially on "The Lobby," when the album really kicks it up. "The longer the night, the shorter the leash and it's a long, long night" might be my favorite of his lyrics. He's saying some pretty honest stuff and beyond his murky voice, he seems hyper-aware of his time nearing an end. In a recent interview, he described the album by saying "what happens after years of service? And where's the honor?" The vocals explore every possible outlet of echoing those questions.
Now we're crawling for "Sunday" (when I don't have to move) and by now the band is blowing me away. There's enough empty space that when the band trades off on parts it's like little bursts of light through a pane of stained glass. It's theatrical when it needs to be. In this case, we hear a woman's voice, eccentric, like a Manhattan Transfer song, circa 1982 and then cavernous and slow, as a full orchestra swells beneath her. In "Vulture," we once again get to hear the band play off of one another. Playfully over-dramatized, this one isn't my favorite but I can appreciate where they were going. The band recorded in the desert, so maybe they were trying to capture the feeling of being out there for two weeks. Then in a pleasant bend of the road, Iggy's bite comes out for the last three songs. Here the band cuts the cord and give us that bleak, unsettling, end of days shit that Iggy does so well. In "German Days," the orchestra is back and badder than ever. It's a powerful, thick mix of sound right up until Pop's last push of air. My favorite right now is probably "Chocolate Drops". It's got structural integrity and besides a sort of unnerving chorus, "the shit turns into chocolate drops" (not sure, but okay!) it's really quite lovely. It's a slow-burner but definitely not NOT appropriate to do the Night at the Roxbury dance to. The album ends with "Paraguay" which is in the most technical sense of the term, badass.
There you have it, you leave the desert. You're driving away. There are jagged rocks and runaway shrubs but the path is direct and it whips through you like the wind. Iggy Pop reminds us that he's still bad-to-the-bone, even though he doesn't need to be, and a beautiful soul, whether he wants to be or not. During "Paraguay," you might picture the band, bopping along as a curtain falls on a frantic Iggy who fights through the drapery, maniacally bowing, ranting into the void. I could listen to him rant all day. "I've had enough of you!" He says. "Yeah, I'm talking to you." Okay Iggy, I'll let you be.