Two new col­lab­o­ra­tions with Iggy Pop con­firm his lust for life

Rock, punk, new wave and be­yond, Iggy Pop has elec­tri­fied our air­waves. An elec­tronic EP trib­ute to Walt Whit­man and a new al­bum are now am­plify­ing his sta­tus, writes John Robin­son

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - John Robin­son is as­so­ciate editor of Un­cut and the Guardian Guide’s rock critic. He lives in Lon­don.

The leg­endary sta­tus of a mu­si­cian isn’t some­thing nec­es­sar­ily con­veyed through mu­sic. Think of Keith Richards ap­pear­ing in Pi­rates of the Caribbean, or David Bowie’s cameo in the Ricky Ger­vais sit­com Ex­tras. Or, no­tably, when Bob Dy­lan ap­peared in ad­ver­tise­ments for Cadil­lac and Chrysler cars. Hav­ing spent their ca­reers so far elud­ing def­i­ni­tion, this, they de­cide, is the time to em­brace and play with pub­lic per­cep­tion, not run from it.

Iggy Pop is also a mu­si­cian very much in this wry, self-aware phase of life. His young ca­reer was marked by ex­ces­sive be­hav­iour of ev­ery kind, his in­tel­li­gent and pro­foundly hu­mourous mind of­ten dis­placed in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion by the havoc he wreaked upon his body. Never mind the ex­ces­sive drug habit, there was also the vi­o­lence and self-harm of his per­for­mances to con­sider.

At the mo­ment, Pop (born James Oster­berg, in 1947) has found sev­eral ways of ad­dress­ing and con­tin­u­ing his leg­end. Jeremy Deller – a Bri­tish con­cep­tual artist with huge em­pa­thy and hu­mour – has re­cently per­suaded him to par­tic­i­pate in a work where he poses naked as a life model. In two very dif­fer­ent new mu­si­cal of­fer­ings, mean­while, Iggy ad­dresses sev­eral aspects of his per­son­al­ity, leg­end and legacy.

In truth, Pop was an early be­liever in trad­ing on his own leg­end. Rather than be­ing gov­erned by the grand plan that can some­times dic­tate a ca­reer, his has fluc­tu­ated be­tween ma­jor high points (like his in­flu­en­tial early work with the mono­lithic, proto-punk Stooges, with­out which most rock bands would be at a loss for any­thing to play) and a solo ca­reer which (bar­ring The

Id­iot and Lust for Life, two mid1970s LPs recorded with his pal David Bowie) has, to say the least, been hit-and-miss. He has, how­ever, al­ways kept busy, his work an en­dorse­ment in the virtue in say­ing “yes” to ev­ery­thing.

In ad­di­tion to the oblig­a­tory act­ing per­for­mances, Pop has had an in­ter­est­ing port­fo­lio ca­reer: he has nar­rated doc­u­men­taries on Wil­liam Bur­roughs, ad­ver­tised car in­sur­ance and guested on tracks by (to list just three par­tic­u­larly good ex­am­ples) Death in Ve­gas, Peaches and At the DriveIn. His voice is warm, deep and sug­gests hard-earned wis­dom, and his cameo ap­pear­ance on a record pro­vides a wow fac­tor, which en­cour­ages you to look in a di­rec­tion you might not have oth­er­wise ex­plored. Pre­sent­ing ex­hibit A: Leaves of Grass, a seven-track EP, in which Iggy nar­rates work by the Amer­i­can poet Walt Whit­man, backed by two Ger­man elec­tronic artists: alva noto (the alias of Carsten Ni­co­lai) and Tar­wa­ter.

It’s an ex­tremely en­joy­able 23-minute record. In it, Iggy de­liv­ers lan­guorous in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Whit­man’s sen­sual, bod­ily work. The mu­sic is qui­etly fizzing and puls­ing, oc­ca­sion­ally punc­tu­ated by dig­i­tal ren­der­ings of the nat­u­ral world. Mean­while, in a voice rich and fruity, Iggy joins Whit­man in a cel­e­bra­tion of fe­cun­dity. A par­tic­u­larly good track is A

Woman Waits for Me in which he sees a fu­ture fam­ily of “fierce, ath­letic girls/New artists, mu­si­cians and singers ... ”

Key words you will hear in this work are “love”, “trem­bling” and – on sev­eral oc­ca­sions – “loins”. At first glance, the im­me­di­ate jux­ta­po­si­tions of­fered by the EP (be­tween the chaotic rep­u­ta­tion of the nar­ra­tor and the high cul­ture ori­gin of this ma­te­rial; be­tween the hard rock icon and elec­tronic mu­sic) might seem to make it an ironic late-ca­reer char­ac­ter cameo. In fact, it works on a rather deeper level, ar­tic­u­lat­ing the dis­par­ity be­tween phys­i­cal and cere­bral which is a fea­ture of Iggy’s work, and reaf­firm­ing the link that ex­ists be­tween Pop, his best two solo al­bums and Ger­many.

David Bowie’s sto­ried Ber­lin pe­riod, in which he wel­comed new and ad­ven­tur­ous elec­tronic el­e­ments into his mu­sic, was for the most part also time he spent cor­dially with Iggy Pop. In this same year or so (roughly 1976 to 1977), the pair also cre­ated The Id­iot, for many the best Pop solo al­bum – and very much an in­flu­ence on an­other new Iggy Pop re­lease this month, his new al­bum proper,

Post Pop De­pres­sion.

A full band record made with Josh Homme and Dean Fer­tita from Queens of the Stone Age, ac­com­pa­nied by Matt Helders from Arc­tic Mon­keys on drums, the work ref­er­ences the past with some­thing like the light­ness of touch (if not quite the same ef­fort­less grace) that Bowie him­self man­aged on The Next Day, his sur­prise come­back al­bum of 2013. In his ini­tial ap­proach to Homme, Pop ap­par­ently wrote him a let­ter rem­i­nisc­ing about his time work­ing with Bowie.

Compact, claus­tro­pho­bic and mod­ern, The Id­iot was a great record, but very far from a swing­ing rock and roller – be­ing more about dis­ci­pline than let­ting it all hang out. Homme (who also pro­duces here) and the band, none of them strangers to sharp-cor­nered rock, do a solid job in of­fer­ing some­thing like that sound, stop­ping short of pas­tiche. They can’t hope to muster the fresh­ness of Bowie’s orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion, but they suc­ceed – as do the Walt Whit­man record and the Jeremy Deller event – in fo­cus­ing the at­ten­tion, un­flinch­ingly, on Iggy him­self.

In the con­text of some howlers like Zom­bie Bird­house (1982) or his jazz records Prélim­i­naires (2009) or Après (2012), this is per­haps more what one might hope for from an Iggy Pop al­bum. It places the singer in a com­ple­men­tary set­ting and al­lows him to sing and turn a phrase, at both of which he is highly ac­com­plished. The singing, which is ex­cel­lent through­out, also seems in­tended to re­call Bowie’s won­der­ful vi­brato.

This is also a record on oc­ca­sion con­cerned with the body – if in a less spir­i­tual fash­ion to Leaves of

Grass. More press­ingly, it deals, al­beit in a pretty vague way, with age and legacy. Amer­i­can Val­halla is an in­ter­est­ing, drift­ing piece, (“This hasn’t been an easy life,” Iggy sings at one point) and you can imag­ine it sit­ting on one of the Bowie-pro­duced al­bums, but it’s only at the ver y end of the song it reaches a true fresh­ness. Un­ac­com­pa­nied, Iggy draws breath on a slightly melo­dra­matic con­clu­sion: “I have noth­ing but my name.”

It’s a strik­ing mo­ment on a solid al­bum. Above all though, it serves to re­mind that while a po­etry al­bum may seem like a step to­wards do­mes­tic­ity and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, it’s ac­tu­ally there where Igg y is out of a self-ref­er­en­tial com­fort zone, and cre­atively surg­ing for­ward ir­re­spon­si­bly. Dis­play­ing all the char­ac­ter­is­tics, in fact, of a con­tin­ued lust for life.

Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP Photo

Iggy Pop per­forms at the pre­miere of the Starz TV se­ries Ash vs Evil Dead, in Los An­ge­les in Oc­to­ber. De­spite his ad­vanc­ing years – he is now 68 – Pop con­tin­ues to sur­prise us.

Post Pop De­pres­sion Iggy Pop Loma Vista Record­ings Dh73

Leaves of Grass Iggy Pop, alva noto, Tar­wa­ter Morr Mu­sic Dh181

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