“I’ve nothing, but my name,” Iggy Pop grumbles on the tail-end of “American Valhalla,” the third track from his new album, Post Pop Depression. While it would be a humbling sentiment from some, let’s not forget the history that comes packed into the three syllables in question. From smearing his slender torso with peanut butter in proto punks the Stooges, to singing about his “Lust for Life” as a Bowie-boosted solo artist, through to a few extra decade’s worth of shimmying around stages and recording studios, Iggy Pop’s name has become iconic in a way that precious few artists have been able to achieve, let alone sustain.
Name recognition plays a big part in the appeal of Post Pop Depression, the seventeenth full-length solo release from one of punk’s great legacy artists. Iggy Pop’s name appears twice on the album cover, three if you count the self-referential album title. Also highlighted on the album art are the names of his collaborators: Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme, QOTSA/Dead Weather member Dean Fertita, and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders. Interestingly, despite the all-caps presentation of the package, the album takes Pop in a subtler direction than you’d think.
“Break Into Your Heart” ushers listeners into the album with a sinister, sexy slink, its dark and brooding melody slow-cooked like so many of Homme’s desert rock classics. Pop is ominous on the track, with his warbled desire for intimacy threatening to make walls come tumbling down until he can “get under your skin.” The tune is inviting, despite its invasive theme.
“Gardenia” follows suit by juxtaposing a mirror ball glimmer of danceable grooves with a sordid, late night motel scenario. Pop, smarmily self-described here as “America’s greatest living poet,” is found ogling the “deep ass” of a goddess in a baby doll dress. It manages to be as catchy as it is crass, and one of the hookier pieces on the LP.
Mortality also seems to be on the artist’s mind throughout the release. “American Valhalla” somewhat revisits the tri-tone hook of The Idiot’s “China Girl,” but upends the tune with a swell of monstrous bass fuzz and ponderings like “death is the pill that’s tough to swallow.” Buried in an over-the-edge blur of sex , guns and psychotropic rhythms , “In the Lobby” has Pop’s familiar baritone noting “I hope I’m not losing my life tonight” ahead of a panicked yelp. “Vulture,” it should go without saying, is an allegorical look at those that want to pick your bones clean.
As far as songwriting partners go, Homme proves a good foil for Pop. Self-recorded and self-financed by the pair, the sessions mesh their distinctive characteristics together quite nicely. But while this means that Pop’s deep, booming vocals sit well above some of Homme’s slinkier arrangements, he’s not often pushed out of his comfort zone. While he prays for rest and relaxation during the rumbling, disco-fied passages of “Sunday”– oddly reminiscent of Kiss’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”– it could have been transcendent to hear his voice soar above its symphonic, Sicilian sunset finale. Despite its ambitious, off-the-cuff time shifts, the darkly waltzed “German Days” isn’t an epic.
That said, “Paraguay” finds Pop unhinged, ready to call out society on its bullshit before saying one last goodbye. “Everybody’s fucking scared,” he spits out during an uncomfortably delivered rant against technology, 24/7-interconnectivity, phonies, and more. Eventually, he threatens to ram a “motherfucking laptop” deep down the throat of a “two-faced, three-timing piece of turd.” Apparently done with us, the veteran rocker pledges “I’m gonna go heal myself now.”
It’s not the best moment of Iggy Pop’s new album, but it may be its most potent. Ultimately, it faces fans with the suggestion that the legend, now 50 years into his music career, isn’t going to be around forever. For some, Post Pop Depression must already be sinking in.
-review by Gregory Adams