A few weeks ago, I, and a number of the NME team, caught Iggy Pop playing an early-evening set on one of the smaller stages at Madrid’s Mad Cool festival. It was, from the moment Pop bounded out on stage, shirtless and leathery, glossy of hair, bursting with energy, a total joy, one of those gigs that makes you beam so hard your cheeks start to hurt.
Pop’s last major dates were in support of ‘Post Pop Depression’, which saw him working with a supergroup involving Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, QOTSA/Dead Weather man Dean Fertita and QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, the latter of who’s personality and sound, in particular, was stamped all over the music and performances.
It felt like part of a then-thriving trend for older artists to bank a lofty swansong album, just in case. Bowie did it with ‘The Next Day’ and ‘Blackstar’; Johnny Cash did it with his ‘American Recordings’ LPs. Even Bruce Springsteen’s latest, ‘Western Stars’ taps into a mood of latter-career ennui and follows a residency on Broadway. Iggy Pop’s ‘Post Pop Depression’ was, as NME noted at the time in a gushing, full-marks review, excellent stuff, but the mood of it was serious and statesmanlike. Iggy Pop is an artist who deserves maximum respect, but my earliest memories of him, from the ’90s, were of seeing a middle-aged man jumping around on stage just enough to make sure his penis fell out of his trousers. In short, he has a fun side that wasn’t up for show on ‘Post Pop Depression’.
At Mad Cool, Pop was energised, and seemed younger, somehow. In place of his supergroup of big-name players was a rag-tag group that sounded, brilliantly, like a New Orleans bar band, with twangy guitars, clattering drums and scorching brass and saxophone. Live, it was a set-up that worked brilliantly not just for his imperial solo phase (‘Passenger’ and ‘Lust For Life’ appeared early in the set) but also breathed new life into Stooges songs, of which he played many, all of which sounded as fresh as they did 50 years ago.
‘James Bond’, Pop’s brand new single, is the sound of that show – something between the trashy horror-rock of The Cramps, the restraint of Talking Heads, the naivety of Modern Lovers and the clattering fun of a bog-standard garage rock band who’d be called something like The Paisley Ghouls and would have released one single before splitting up in 1968. It crawls along on a simple, irresistible bassline and ticking drum beat, Pop crooning over it like a singing Bela Lugosi, with lyrics about, well, James Bond.
In a statement, Pop has said that the forthcoming album, ‘Free’, finds him free of a mental problem that might surprise fans, who surely see him as a confident, strident, untouchable performer. “By the end of the tours following ‘Post Pop Depression’, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long,” he writes. “But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free.”
This track, truly, is the sound of a man popping on a pair of dark shades and swaggering off on a bar crawl without a care in the world. It sounds like Iggy is having fun again, and it seems like we’re set to see him hit a late-period career-high.
You only live twice – unless, it seems, you’re an indestructible, ever-changing rock legend.