‘Proof that the Godfather of Punk still has some tricks up his sleeve’
Jonny Edge
14:00 18th September 2019

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Iggy Pop’s follow up to 2016’s Post Pop Depression is proof that the Godfather of Punk still has some tricks up his sleeve. If there was ever any doubt, even the thinnest suggestion that perhaps it was the guiding influence of Josh Homme, Matt Helders and Dean Fertita that made Post Pop… such a success, let Free put those cynicisms to rest. This is not so much a case of an old dog learning new tricks as it is young pups frolicking and gambolling under the watchful eye of the old dog they know so well. That young pup/old dog analogy isn’t intended to be an overly familiar and cutesy metaphor, either. Pop himself views Free as an album where “other artists speak for [him]” but he lends his voice, and let me tell you, it works. It bloody well works.

We open with ‘Free’, an atmospheric, shimmering introduction to the rest of the album that lets a jazz saxophonist take centre stage and echo out atop a shifting landscape of ambient noise. True to his word, all Iggy contributes here is two repeats of “I wanna be free” – but this simple line delivery is every bit as impactful as it has always been. The track gives way to ‘Loves Missing’, easily one of the album’s highlights. Dirty, sinewy, with an introduction that takes us right back to his cover of Grace Jones’ ‘Nightclubbing’ (the definitive version, don’t @ me). The bass chugs along beat for beat with the percussion, providing a tremendous sense of momentum for the guitar to slide over. Once again, brass enters the fray, entirely to punctuate proceedings while Pop’s touch is deft, minimal – absolutely living up to his idea of other artists speaking for him. ‘Loves Missing’ reaches a powerful crescendo, with Pop’s voice breaking and wavering in all of the right ways – but then it has the confidence to strip it all away again towards the end of the track. It’s one hell of a ride. Just when you think the song is getting away from Pop, just when you think he might be getting overindulgent, he whips it right back, creating a song that only ever pulses to the beat of Pop’s own drum.

‘Sonali’ provides shades of our opener, but explores ideas raised there more thoroughly, with beautiful, muted guitar layered over synth and whisper quiet snare or hi-hat hits. It shouldn’t, but God does it work well. James Bond comes thundering in with the deep, rumbling bass I have always associated with Pop. ‘James Bond’ is as simple as can be in terms of production, with bass, hi-hat and Pop’s treacle thick voice at first, before introducing playful guitar strums, and a crisp and beautifully simple riff to top things off. It’s Iggy Pop by way of Queens of the Stone Age. Guess he did pick up a thing or two from Homme, after all. It’s a shame that it is followed by a bum note in the form of ‘Dirty Sanchez’, which starts exactly as you’d expect – with Spanish guitar. The track never really goes anywhere. Its instrumentation is its strongest element, but the call-and-response format of the lyrics is just too much, lacking subtlety, but not in a fun or creative way. Even its closing pleas of “Can you lighten up on me?” aren’t enough to save it.

Thank God for ‘Glow In The Dark’, then. Featuring decidedly spacey, sky bound flourishes alongside instrumentation that seems to ripple outwards from Pop’s voice. The bright brass appears again here, and it is now that it becomes abundantly clear that it is intended to serve as an omnipresent, optimistic layer across the entire album. Its usage is always sparing, but impactful. With that one element Free as an album seems to look into the future and blast obstacles out of the way. The brass itself is every bit as free as Pop clearly feels he finally is, having finally overcome the chronic insecurity that has, in his own words, dogged his life and career thus far. It’s a fitting and subtle trick that works every bit as well as he will have hoped. But then 'Glow In The Dark' kicks it up a gear, swelling to the point of becoming stratospheric. This is the highest, most pomp-filled production I’ve heard from Pop in some time, but just like ‘Sonali' earlier on, it sings. Turns out he’s learned as much from his collaboration with Underworld as he has from his time with Homme and co.

The final four tracks are particularly fascinating. To me, ‘Page’ is the true final track, not ‘The Dawn’, for reasons that will become clear. ‘Page’ opens with that classic Iggy Pop style, singing every single letter, not just every single syllable. A soft break in his voice here, a temporarily vulnerable waver there – it’s easy to see why so many doff their cap to Pop. There’s no one that does it like him. ‘Page’ is out of step with the rest of the album in that it’s a rare instance where Pop does anything but let other artists speak for him, asserting that he can still speak for himself when he wants to, but only then. It’s a beautiful, affecting composition. In less adept hands, the song could feel sentimental, like a fond farewell, but here it just feels hopeful and celebratory, oozing with well deserved warmth. Pop says himself that after Post Pop… he “wanted to put on shades, turn [his] back, and walk away”, and after ‘Page’, he could do exactly that and I wouldn’t begrudge him for a second. Instead, we get a three part surely-Gil-Scott-Heron-inspired epic, showcasing the gravelly gravitas of his delivery across three spoken word pieces, ‘We Are The People', 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ and ‘The Dawn’. His esses purr and dissipate, his consonants crackle. The verses, yet again, have a finality to them. They are the bleak musings of a man who has undoubtedly seen it all. It’s a voice, a perspective beyond even his own seventy two years, yet once again, the brass soars optimistically, almost unattainably as the unspoken hope that sits above even the direst of circumstances. As we shift from ‘We Are The People’ to ‘Do Not Go Gentle…’, Iggy goes biblical. The brass is pointed skyward, and so is his voice – projected as if bursting through clouds. 

We then arrive at ‘The Dawn’, a sinister turn to close out this affecting spoken word triptych. It’s ironic that an album with such an undercurrent of optimism and hope ends with the sentiment: “If all else fails, it’s good to smile in the dark, love and sex are gonna occur to you, and neither one will solve the darkness”. It’s hard not to smile a wry smile. You’ve got to love a bit of gallows humour. Once a punk, always a punk.

Free is out now via Caroline International.

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