Iggy Pop has got to be the single most overlooked “legend” in music (settle down, Mudhoney and Tears for Fears fans, it's just an opinion) – the guy has outlived contemporaries, pivoted with coming trends, more than stayed afloat following his departure from The Stooges, and never failed to impress with his frenetic style on stage despite being a spry 68 years old.
Pop is also the source of some of the finest tour diary anecdotes, including my personal favorite: Iggy Pop was once duped into opening for Flock of Seagulls in the 1980s. Understandably flummoxed by the disregard for his pedigree, Pop did what Pop does best – cause a scene. Enlisting the help of the tour’s production crew to craft a giant wooden cross, he painted his face green, and would drag the giant cross out on stage every night with the bewildering face paint only heightening his stage histrionics, which eventually got him kicked off the tour. It’s artists like Iggy that allow for present day “mavericks,” “renegades,” “free-spirits,” “weirdos,” etc. to perform in deranged manners minus any real career detriment.
A bastion of punk, proto-punk, art rock, and everything in between, Iggy has spent a lifetime of cavorting and writhing around on stage, and for 23 albums – including 5 Stooges records, one James Williamson collaboration, and 17 solo records (which includes a cover album recorded entirely in French, Apres) – he has managed to maintain his status as rock music’s most adept chameleon. His seamless transition from collaborator extraordinaire on his Skull Ring record in 2003 – featuring Green Day, The Stooges, The Trolls, Peaches, and Sum 41 – to his jazz record inspired by Michel Houllebecq’s novel La Possibilite d’une iˆle, Preliminaires in 2009; we’ve seen Iggy Pop cover just about every musical base a punk rocker from Ann Arbor, Michigan could conceive.
To that notion, anything that Iggy Pop puts out from this point on – be it a solo record, a compilation, b-sides, demos, or covers – should be celebrated as yet another fine accoutrement that adorns the already spectacular apparatus that is Iggy Pop’s discography. Unfortunately, when music legends release projects in the twilight of their careers, the efforts do necessarily ensure a maintenance of the gravitas that’s become synonymous with their name (looking at you, Bob Dylan’s Shadows In the Night). Fortunately, such a shortcoming is not the case with Iggy Pop’s most recent release, Post Pop Depression - a record so incomparable with past Iggy efforts, it could be argued that the former Stooges front man’s collaborative effort with Queens of the Stone Age front man-turned-super-producer Josh Homme could be the finest release of Iggy Pop’s career to date.
A nine-track sonic exploration of Iggy Pop’s Joshua Tree retreat – where Homme’s studio is located – Post Pop Depression features an unofficial “supergroup” as Iggy’s backing band – Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures), Dean Fertita (QOTSA, The Dead Weather), and Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) – helping provide some of the fullest sounds ever featured on an Iggy Pop record. Post Pop Depression opens with “Break Into Your Heart,” a track that prominently features Iggy’s vocals asserting the affirmative recognition of Pop’s career, fueled by physical force and creeping persistence. The Homme production influence is practically instantaneous, as the warping synth and guitar sound akin to QOTSA’s Era Vulgaris tones, melded with the Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug style-rhythm and unobtrusive percussion (recorded at Joshua Tree by Homme), both of which provide the robust sonic anchor as the perfect inverse to Iggy Pop’s sinewy vocal proclivities.
As Post Pop Depression ventures further, the Homme hand becomes more and more noticeable – but in the best of ways – as “Gardenia” sounds like QOTSA’s “The Blood is Love” meets “Make It Wit Chu;” playful with hints of indignation. The bellowing timbre of Iggy Pop’s voice makes the poppy chorus – “All I wanna do is tell Gardenia what to do tonight.” – sound purposefully comical.
Third track, “American Valhalla,” is an interesting congruence of Iggy Pop ideology mixed with fairly unconventional instrumentation – at least for Iggy Pop. A song that originated from a Homme instrumental demo title “Shitty Demo,” featuring vibraphone and steel drum “motifs.” Interestingly enough, the vibraphone is turned off the entire track, so the noise adds yet another peculiar facet to an already strange steel drum melody. The Valhalla – an afterlife destination for only the most indomitable of warriors - focus stems from Homme and Iggy Pop’s text dialogue oriented on whether or not there is in fact an American Valhalla. Iggy Pop then spent the following day singing along with the track, eventually settling on possible answers to his original question – “I’ve shot my gun / I’ve used my knife / This hasn’t been an easy life /I’m hoping for American Valhalla.” The rest of the song is considerably moving for an artist best known for societal skewering and romping around on stage.
The middle portion of Post Pop Despression begins to groove in a more familiar Iggy Pop fashion. “In The Lobby” features some deft stick work from Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders – a man whose involvement in his primary gig is already criminally under-acknowledged – helping provide a tight winnowing beat for Iggy Pop to prance around lyrically. Iggy Pop explores the realities of his inevitable age, and his shift from his peak to his his considerably more restrained present; death and disconnect becoming more and more apparent as album motifs.
Being a 68-year-old master of punk music, Iggy Pop could have accepted his peremptory status, continually speaking out against societal niceties and pitfalls (though “Sunday” explores Iggy Pop’s thoughts on corporatized living), but instead, he grapples with the banality of his eventual departure – well aware that his death is inevitable. It’s a perspective in music that has rarely been explored – someone totally comfortable with their life’s work, but still trying to feed the beast that is “purpose.” Songs like “Vulture” concern themselves with the unfortunate reality of being an aging public figure, running into people angling for some sort of financial reward for their end-of-life courtship; thus the songs title. “German Days” sees a return to the heavy-Homme’d soundscapes – thick base lines paired with airy guitar licks, as Homme even provides backing vocals that basically whittle German culture down into a four minute and forty eight second ode. “Chocolate” is an unexpected surprise for an album that has already established its rock-heavy trappings, featuring bells and chimes over a cool disco beat, it’s the first track on the album that really suggests this may be the last album we ever see from Iggy Pop.
If Post Pop Depression is in fact Iggy Pop’s definitive punctuating mark on his famously ungovernable career, it’s about as good a note he can go out on as any. Pre-meditated closing statements can be sad affairs – Glen Campbell’s Ghost on Canvas – and other times oddly premonitory – David Bowie's ★ – but this closing statement feels nothing like either of those sentiments. Post Pop Depression feels like the first of many further installments in Iggy Pop’s marathon-man career – forever indomitable in every aspect, and wry as ever – but then again, for a guy that’s been frolicking around shirtless on stage for the past 50 years, that may be the best way to go out.