When you first hear that Iggy Pop has been out in the Californian desert recording with Josh Homme, all kinds of images of biker gangs, cactus strewn vistas and mighty jam sessions under hallucinogenic sunsets start to form.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall as the long-haired, leather-skinned, bare-chested, Motor City zombie starts tearing around the Joshua Tree whilst Homme chugs out those grizzly guitar riffs. With the Dead Weather’s Dean Fertita and Arctics drummer Matt Helders also along for the ride, you begin to drool at what paint-peeling, swamp-rock behemoths might emerge from Homme’s near-legendary Rancho De La Luna studio. But that’s not the way Post Pop Depression turned out.
It’s a disappointment at first to realise that the nihilistic, Iggy-icon has not been given a shot of adrenalin and let loose with Queens Of The Stone Age. Great as that surely would have been, Iggy is in a different mood these days. He spends his time wandering around a plush Miami water-front house in a silk dressing gown listening to Serge Gainsbourg and doing the odd spot of painting. He’s richer than he’s ever been (thanks in part to those daft insurance ads), settled and happily married, but battered and barbed by the years of kamikaze stage antics and starting to feel his 68-years – “I’m a wreck, what did you expect?”
Well, in truth we probably shouldn’t of imagined bombastic velocity. His 6Music radio show has shown him to be full of droll, laconic charm and on last album Apres (2012) he reincarnated as a weird lounge act, singing in broken French and covering old time romantic standards by Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra. It’s that stance as a baritone crooner that Iggy adopts here, purring soft and low as he bastardises sweet Andy Williams melodies with his gnarled voice and raunchy war stories.
Despite his assured legacy, he is more vulnerable and reflective than he’s ever been. “I have no plans, I have no debts/But mine is not the carefree set,” he informs us on ‘American Valhalla’ – “I’ve shot my gun, I’ve used my knife/This hasn’t been an easy life.” With the deaths in the last few years of original Stooges Ron and Scott Asheton and his Berlin buddies Lou Reed and David Bowie, Iggy stands as one of the last rock and roll outlaws still raging against the dying of the light. It’s quite moving to hear him take off the persona and in a deep, cracked voice weigh up whether he too has “outlived my use”. His uncharacteristically down-hearted conclusion is -“I’ve nothing but my name.”
Death looms larger than ever throughout the record – “I hope I’m not losing my life,” he growls on the shadowy, gothic sprawl of ‘In The Lobby’. “This job is a mascaraed of recreation/Like a wreck, I’m sinking fast,” he grumbles over Bossa Nova backbeats and cheesy backing singers on ‘Sunday’. It’s gloomy, Las Vegas show tunes done by a scarred punk warlord facing up to his own mortality – closest to the unsettling euro-disco throb of his classic ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘The Idiot’ years.
But the cantankerous devil is fooling nobody. That freakish, roguish, lust for life is still never far from the surface – why, just a few weeks ago he stripped bare and modelled for a life drawing class at the New York Academy of Art. It’s not the first time his full glory has been on public display and it probably won’t be the last, and he can’t help but show what a kinky old goat he remains on ‘Gardenia’ – a lusty tale of “forbidden dreams” set in a neon-lit, cheap hotel, that remembers the “hourglass ass” of a “black goddess in a shabby raincoat”.
The vulnerability turns to cranky disillusionment on glam-strutting closer ‘Paraguay’, with our hero throwing a hissy fit and threatening to retire to exotic climbs – “I just couldn’t take no more/Of whipping fools and keeping score/I just thought, fuck it man/ I’m gonna pack my soul and scram.” It turns into a ranty meltdown with Iggy dreaming of a compound under the trees with servants who love him, far away from soul sapping critics and a hi-tech society frightened witless – “Everybody’s scared/Fear eats all the souls at once”.
It’s hard to figure out if this is a farewell or a new beginning. With Homme and the gang at his side, there are plenty of adventures still to be had and even if Iggy’s ballistic energy has burnt away, his gravelly, beaten baritone has many a toe curling tale to tell. You couldn’t begrudge him heading for a retirement home, but something tells me Iggy won’t go gently into the night.
Post Pop Depression is out now via Caroline International.