Iggy Pop is one of music's great survivors and he's been having a blast lately experimenting with a whole slew of styles, to mixed success. I wasn't particularly fond of his 2019 album Free, because it only contained six songs proper, the rest of a short running time filled with spoken word poetry of little repeat play value. This one's hardly generous at thirty-seven minutes, but nine of the eleven tracks are songs and even where they're built with the spoken word, they're worth repeating. Only the second interlude is inherently skippable.
What's more, it marks a firm return to the punk and rock that Pop is known for, with a set of stellar guest musicians, led by multi-instrumentalists Andrew Watt and Josh Klinghoffer. There are clear comparisons to be made with Ozzy Osbourne's latest album, Patient Number 9, another return to form, because it also benefitted from Watt's production and instrumental talents, along with a string of guests, many of whom are the same musicians, like Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Duff McKagan of Guns n' Roses. Smith played on every track on Ozzy's album and seven of the eleven here, while McKagan played on two and three respectively.
Both of them are on the glorious opener, Frenzy, which is an in your face punk song in the Stooges vein. I remember when he used to do this sort of thing and clearly so does he, because he's having an obvious blast with filters off, middle finger extended and that recognisable sneer in full effect. So much for moving away from the trappings of rock music. Welcome back, Iggy. He doesn't stay in this mode throughout, but he's there for Modern Day Rip Off too and other songs have righteous anger in them too, especially the more downplayed closer, The Regency, and the pop punk blast of Neo-Punk, which offers a great contrast between trendier verses, with Blink-182's Travis Barker on drums, and a more hardcore Bad Brains-esque chorus.
When Pop drops back down into pop mode, he's still interesting, especially on Strung Out Johnny, a far more controlled post-punk song. This is Pop doing pop but keeping it interesting in a way that many wouldn't. All the Way Down is a solid rock song, with some searing solos from Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, and it feels like an epic at only four and a half minutes. Remember that there are no fewer than eleven tracks taking up only thirty-seven minutes. Some of these are very short. Only The Regency is longer and I found myself disappointed with that one, even with Chris Chaney and Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction on board, along with the late Taylor Hawkins. It feels long rather than epic.
The less interesting material once again is the spoken word pieces, but they are at least far more interesting on this album than the last one. The best of them is probably The News for Andy, which is done and dusted in under a minute, but New Atlantis is good too. Pop always had a strong sense of intonation and that's particularly notable on this one, even if he sounds like Johnny Cash on the chorus. It's there on Modern Day Rip Off too, which benefits massively from textbook rhyming and intonation. Morning Show is a mood piece with his voice deep and rich and it's not hard to wait out on the way to more overt songs.
And so, once again, this is a mixed bag, but it's a much better mixed bag than Free. It's longer and more substantial. It's agreeably varied and rarely loses its power, even when shifting between. It's also outstanding at points, Modern Day Rip Off and Frenzy the standouts with Strung Out Johnny and All the Way Down on their heels. Iggy's at his uncompromising best on these tracks and he's a solid iconic presence through everything, even down to the forgettable My Animus Interlude, only a minute long but still inherently skippable. And he's having fun, right down to his rolling Rs at the end of Modern Day Rip Off and his pixie-like laugh after Neo-Punk. Life is good for Iggy, it seems, and it's good for us too when he's in this sort of mood.