Free, Iggy Pop’s 18th (!) solo album, marks a conscious and stark departure from the guitar driven garage rock of 2016’s Post Pop Depression and sees punk’s original topless firecracker embrace a spirit of deep contemplation.
It’s a distinctly collaborative effort: Pop reached out to jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and filmmaker and composer Noveller after discovering them through his 6Music show Iggy Confidential. Together they deliver an album in which Pop’s gravelly musings on love, sex, and death are held within Noveller’s sparse, otherworldly soundscapes punctuated by syncopated drums spurts and Thomas’ soaring horns.
The record seems to move through stages:
- Statement of desire. The title track and opener sets the sonic tone with an unfolding underwater (blue whale?) world where Thomas’ trumpet dances alone. Pop speaks: “I wanna be free”. There’s an uncertainty and innocence in the delivery. Though a statement, it’s sounds like a question and starting point from which the album wanders.
- Exploration. The first half of the record is a freewheeling reflection on the perplexing conditions of modern life. ‘Loves Missing’ is a chugging meditation on loneliness and the desperate need for companionship and human recognition. ‘Sonali’ speeds through a disparate bank of images most prominently accented by the repeated line to “stay in your lane.” ‘Dirty Sanchez’ takes on internet porn.
- A kind of resolution. The final tracks are exclusively spoken word, Pop apparently abandoning all pretence of singerly aspiration in favour of phonic gravitas. He lends his deep tones to ‘We Are The People’, written by Lou Reed in 1970 and disturbingly relevant half a century later. Reciting Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, Pop’s convincing rallying to “rage against the dying of the light” weaves in and out of the sonic landscape. Final track ‘The Dawn’ tackles the darkness head on with Pop wisely suggesting that “if all else fails, it’s good to smile in the dark.”
It’s a compelling 33 minutes, but not without some baffling moments of madness. Having not watched a single ‘James Bond’ film I’m not best placed to judge the nuances of the bassline radio-friendly jam which seems like an anomaly in the context of the album as a whole. It troubles me when a man talks about a woman (“she”) and determines her desires (“wants to be your James Bond”) but it could just be daft gender-bending with a glorious climactic trumpet solo.
The call and response male chorus of ‘Dirty Sanchez’ chanting “just because we like big tits/doesn’t mean we like big dicks” sits uncomfortably. It’s somewhat redeemed by Pop’s crazed and warbled “I think we’re confused!” which underlines the song’s message on online sexuality. Incidentally, Pop was initially reluctant to record the Thomas penned track deeming it career suicide before asking Thomas to “put some horns on it!”
Confusing moments aside, ‘Free’ is a strong offering in which mortality is a defining thread: aged 72, Pop is the last surviving original member of The Stooges (Ron Asheton died in 2009, Scott Asheton in 2014) and the Berlin Three (Lou Reed died in 2013, David Bowie in 2016) and you can feel him grappling with this. The musical experimentation on ‘Free’ provides a rich, spacious container for Pop’s solitary ponderings on existence. It better not be his Blackstar.
Words by Fliss Clarke