Iggy Pop Will Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night on ‘Free’
At the age of 72, Iggy Pop is, of course, a legendary performer and musician. Known for his shirtless, spirited live performances, and rocket-propelled vocals dating back to his initial output with the Stooges, Iggy has released seventeen solo records over the years. From collaborations with Bowie and varying degrees of garage-inspired and hard rock output to new wave forays, punk and hard rock material, jazz experimentation and even a French language album, he’s been all over. The recent Grammy-nominated and his top performing solo album, “Post Pop Depression,” was produced by Josh Homme, and a joint EP with Underworld from 2018 featured mostly spoken word over pulsating undercurrents.
“Free,” Iggy Pop’s eighteenth album, is a record that gives a glimpse of classic Iggy, and attempts to build in another new, experimental direction. Overall, it’s an album whose tone is rather somber and meditative. It’s composed in collaboration with acclaimed trumpeter Leron Thomas and guitarist Noveller (a.k.a Sarah Lipstate). As a result, many of the tracks are ambient, tonal, and jazz-inspired, with Iggy crooning or doing spoken word over instrumentals. There are glimpses of Iggy’s signature Motor City proto punk vocalizing on songs like “Loves Missing” or the crassly-penned protest song “Dirty Sanchez,” but it’s largely an introspective and brooding endeavor.
“Free” is an album channeled in the wake of post-tour depression (after touring for “Post Pop Depression,” of course). Iggy notes, “This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice… By the end of the tours following ‘Post Pop Depression,’ I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that’s an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need — not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen.”
The title track features ambient textures and slowly rising trumpet tones. Iggy briefly opines, “I wanna be free.” It’s a statement that perhaps alludes to the personally elusive sensation of freedom, but doubles in its application on this record as describing the sonics and textures of free jazz, as well as the album’s yearning for an escape from political turmoil. “Loves Missing” is the most straightforward song on the record. It begins with a meaty bass riff and kick-snare combo. A searching guitar riff descends as Iggy rhapsodizes about the absence of love, “She’s thinking about something we all need / Love’s screaming.” The lyrics also make mention of the fact that the “center won’t hold,” which is a throwaway reference to poet William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” A trumpet solo eventually unfurls.
“Sonali” has interesting percussive textures, with what sounds to be a sped-up, shuffling snares and rattling hi-hats. It almost reads as a trip-hop song. Ambient synthesizers set a moody atmosphere, and Iggy sings about highway metaphors, popping melatonin, late night romance, and first generation immigration, “It’s what you want / And yes I approve / ‘Cause if I run out of gas / You’ll be my excuse / First generation’s assimilation / You weren’t well / And no one can tell.” Ghostly trumpet melodies pour their way over the track, indulging the moody and contemplative atmosphere.
“James Bond” begins with an appropriately spy-influenced bassline as Iggy sings in a distinctive, leathery baritone, “She walks like him / Talks like him too / She can suss out the spy / Even if it’s you / She trusts no one / Not even herself / She makes no sudden moves / Chalks it up to stealth.” A woman’s mechanized voice echoes “James Bond.” It’s a surfy song that slowly builds with delay-laden guitars and a trumpet solo. The subject matter is a little gauche, but the vocals and atmosphere manage as a decent tune.
“Dirty Sanchez” may be the most low-brow, crassly worded songs of all time. The vaguely Latin-tinged song is lyrically composed by the trumpeter on the album, Leron Thomas. It’s an explicit and pornographic song about sexuality. “Just because I like big tits doesn’t mean I like big dicks, rich man make it stop — we don’t all want the cock.” Iggy soon returns to the moody and ambient atmosphere exhibited earlier on the album with songs like “Glow in the Dark,” which is largely an experimental soundscape, and the wearily sung “Page.”
“We Are the People” and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” are readings of poems written by Lou Reed and Dylan Thomas, respectively. Reed describes political turmoil in the ‘70s and Iggy fittingly repurposes it to be critical of the contemporary political landscape. It’s also hard to not feel a sense of pointed purpose when Iggy mouths, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day,” on “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” as a fittingly adopted adage from the punk progenitor. “The Dawn” closes the album as another spoken word, contemplative piece, “Love and sex are gonna occur to you, and neither one is gonna solve the darkness.”
“Free” is an album which is generally more concerned with searching than destruction, and Iggy manages to remind us that he’s anything but forgotten. “Dirty Sanchez” is certainly one of the stranger songs ever written, and “James Bond” is a bit conceptually contrived. But the somber, melancholic, jazzy, and poetic tone seems a freeing direction from Iggy. Even if old age and packed touring schedules might be enough to call it quits for others, Iggy soldiers on with all the rage he can muster for “Free,” even if it’s a brooding and atmospheric affair.
“Free” is available Sep. 6 on Apple Music