Monday 23 September 2019

Iggy Pop - Free (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 6 Sep 2019
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One of the great things about Iggy Pop is that, even though he's one of the most influential musicians on the planet, we can't ever assume what's going to show up on a new album with his name on the cover. There are songs here that sound roughly like what we might expect and his voice, of course, has never been mistakeable for anyone else. However, of the ten tracks on offer, four could perhaps be best described as spoken word poetry with some musical accompaniment, and one of the predominant instruments is a saxophone.

Three of those are clear. We are the People is a recitation of lyrics that Lou Reed wrote in 1970 but which were first published last year. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night is the Dylan Thomas poem. The Dawn is original. The fourth is the title track, which opens up the album. "I wanna be free", Pop tells us twice with perfect intonation: the first time is phrased as an almost childlike question, but the second is a happy manifesto. These words are set against atmospheric keyboards and that sax, which is surprising but welcome and enjoyable.

That leaves only six songs proper, which comprise a mere twenty-five minutes or so, a skimpy running time for people expecting music. Fortunately, they begin with Loves Missing, which is very cool indeed. It's reminiscent of the most famous Iggy music, such as the Lust for Life album, but it builds its grooves with a different instrument set. There's a lot of texture here and it gets very dark and dense, almost a scream into the darkness.

Pop stated to Exclaim! magazine that he "wanted to wiggle out of the frame of rock instrumentation" and he does that well here. Just check out Sonali, which unfolds through a wealth of electronica, over which he delivers lyrics in a stream of consciousness style. There's ambient here and glitch and what are presumably programmed drums. They certainly sound very electronic.

James Bond ditches the electronica but is constructed on a bass riff rather than guitar. When the guitar eventually shows up, and it takes a while, it's content to support in an odd way that sounds almost Jamaican. For a third of its running time, Dirty Sanchez is Mexican brass but then it transforms into a call and response track in punk style, like Lust for Life's Success, but with a more immersive backing track.

Glow in the Dark is even odder. It features a deep manipulated vocal line that's oddly only accompanied while Pop is singing. The regular instruments stop every time he does, leaving an ambient backing track to fill the gaps. It's interesting and it gets agreeably intense with rhythm and tone, even with that sax dancing over the top of it all.

I liked all of these, as different and unusual as they are. I like hearing new sounds in my rock music and it seems that Iggy does too. A lot of them here are surely the work of Leron Thomas, a jazz trumpeter and composer who Wikipedia tells me is a "masterful genre-bender". He wrote four of the six songs proper solo and co-wrote the other two. In many ways, this album is a Leron Thomas album that Iggy happens to sing on.

The reason I'm dropping my rating to a 6/10 is because the poetry is decent but will get skipped over on any repeat listen and I really didn't like the remaining song, Page. Iggy experiments with a stylistic wobble in his voice as if he's rubbing his voicebox while singing and it became highly annoying to me.

So, as an Iggy Pop album, it's inconsistent and often delivers something not what fans might all appreciate. As a six track Leron Thomas album with guest vocals from Iggy, ending with Glow in the Dark, it's different and cool and enticingly weird. It's all going to depend on how you approach it.

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