“Every now and then this voice in me says, ‘You’re getting too straight, you’re getting normal – you need some weird shit.” So said Iggy Pop, rock’n’roll’s once-menacing son and now elder-statesman, at Mad Cool Festival earlier this summer. It was a more sombre moment of reflection in a set that otherwise celebrated his storied past, from the proto-punk glory of The Stooges’ rawest moments to his shape-shifting solo career from the ‘70s to the modern day. Throughout he’s been always unpredictable and absolutely thrilling. Fitting, then, that his brand new album ‘Free’ sees Iggy toy with real weird shit, man.
Perhaps he felt his last album ‘Post Pop Depression’ was too “normal”. He’d have a point. It was an rockin’ victory lap starring Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Dean Ferita and Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders. The gang suited and booted it up for his best album in decades; a tight, brash and somewhat haunting return from an icon who clearly felt he still had energy to burn and a soul to wreck. The ensuing ‘Post Pop Depression’ tour was an unmissable roadshow, his crowning moment at London’s Royal Albert Hall “the performance of a lifetime”.
“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’s said of his mindset after that period (‘Post Pop Depression’ was his highest-charting ever, landing at Number Five here in the UK and 17 in the US). “But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away.”
If he found being embraced and beloved slightly unnerving, this is an album to push him back as an outsider where he can continue to thrive and sometimes confound. ‘Free’ is most certainly not the immediate triumph like ‘Post Pop Depression’. Instead it’s contemplative and eerie, but finds the middle-ground between the avant-garde, which Iggy is prone to explore, and the grimy garage-rock that made his name. It’s a good fit, considering that large parts of the album was written by collaborators around him – he just lives within and embodies them.
The slinking ‘James Bond’ is oddly-hypnotic, with a repetitive bassline and grumbling vocals that conclude in bombastic fashion, while the scattering drumbeat and melodic progression on ‘Sonali’ are usually found underneath the warblings of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, a departure from our beloved Idiot’s growl. The sleazy ‘Dirty Sanchez’ stumbles and leers with lust and humour: “Always playing with your butts / The things you do for the camera / This online porn is driving me nuts”.
But why does this one fare better than the jazz-rock on 2009’s ‘Preliminaries’, or even 2012’s cover-filled, French-language ‘Apres’? Well, as icons drop like flies – Iggy’s pals David Bowie in 2016 and Lou Reed in 2013 – we’re prone to reappraise those heroes as they reach their final stretch. Likewise, Iggy was an underdog for nearly 20 years, following a handful creative misfires in the ‘00s, but perseverance and a drive to always challenge brought the 72-year-old back in the game. He’s had fun with mythologizing about the end, though – he and The Stooges called their final album ‘Ready To Die’, after all.
So if Iggy wants to spend the second-half of ‘Free’ largely engaging in spoken-word odes, then so be it. There’s fury and confusion in ‘We Are The People’ – originally penned by Lou Reed in 1970 – acts as a stark dispatch from a man who’s watched his country change – for better and much, much worse – and concludes: “We are the people who conceive our destruction and carry it out lawfully”.
A reading of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by poet Dylan Thomas is certainly apt for a warrior like himself, but the closing track ‘The Dawn’, is far more poignant and original. “The darkness is like a challenger / To all my schemes and orders / And forced good nature / To just lay down is to give up”, he hums as ambient synths surrounds him. With time, he appears to have found solace: “If all else fails/ It’s good to smile in the dark”.
The darkness appears at bay and Iggy is continues to create on his own terms. ‘Free’ is a liberating collection that unshackles the star from his past and his insecurities, and slowly cracks open a door to version of the future that will inevitably arrive when he’s ready. Wherever that journey takes him in this phase of his career, it’ll be an honour to witness.