Let me paint you a picture: You're sitting in your favorite coffee house in the second half of the 21st century, like a scene out of a William Gibson cyberpunk epic. Under neon glow flashing off the chrome fixtures,a steaming cup of tea sits in front of you as a grizzled veteran of too many years on the road, too much hard living, maybe in a past life, takes the stage. For the next half hour, you listen to incredibly trippy, distant music, blending electronica sounds with jazz horns that comes straight out of the past, playing under a combination of spoken-word poetry and songs that seem like they could have come from a collaborations between David Bowie and Jim Morrison during a very slow-burn kind of weekend.
If you can get your mind around that concept, then you're ready for "Free," the upcoming new release from the iconic Iggy Pop.
This isn't the same sound you'd expect from listening to The Stooges, or “Lust for Life,” or any of a dozen other tracks or albums from the Detroit punk rock progenitor. But then again, this isn't the same guy that recorded those albums or hit those stages back in those days. When The Stooges started up, he was a brash, no-holds-barred 20-something out to conquer the world. Now, at 72, he's done all that. He's still brash, he's conquered the world, and he's comfortable enough to explore whatever he wants, musically, lyrically, and not feel beholden to anyone. That's the whole point of this album. From the name down to every note, “Free” is about breaking out of expectations.
The opening, eponymous track is a spoken-word piece, played over haunting melodies and mournful horns led by Leron Thomas, minimalist in lyrics but rich in tone, it sets the stage for what's to come. The first single released, “James Bond,” which starts off fun, before you start to realize the female protagonist of the song (“She wants to be your James Bond”) may not be the most mentally stable of girlfriends. The track is very hooky, though, and is bound to get stuck in your head.
In a very military-cadence, call-and-response style, “Dirty Sanchez” is either going to be a favorite number, or absolutely hated, and I don't really see any in-between. It's a bouncy track that has a march quality, but it's the kind of song that easily lends itself to audience participation in a live setting. “Sonali” has a fast, synthy-snare blended riff throughout that sounds like it would fit right into that cyberpunk world I mentioned before. One of the more up-tempo tracks, it's definitely not going to be confused for an early Stooges song. “Page” is another soliloquy delivered on the shoulders of Leron Thomas's trumpet, with a wistful, drifting sound that you'd easily want to fall asleep to, though if you do, I can't be responsible for what dreams may come.
“We Are The People” is a truly political statement, and yet it's got a deeply personal feel. It's a lamentation over the state of the world we live in today. “We are the people without land. We are the people without tradition,” the track begins as Thomas's horns cry underneath. For anyone that remembers 20 years ago, when Baz Luhrman released “Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” based on the essay written by Mary Schmich, then you probably remember the upbeat, feel-good vibe you get from that song. This track is the antithesis of that one. This is the dark side of that coin, but may be just as important in the time we live in. It's not intended to bring the listener down. In fact, it may have exactly the opposite effect, and inspire a new movement. This song is about the state mind so many in our world – and specifically in this country – find themselves in today. “We are the people who are desperate, beyond emotion, because it defies thought. We are the people who conceive our destruction, and carry it out, lawfully.”
“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is exactly that – the Dylan Thomas poem read by Pop over a melodic digital backtrack and Leron Thomas's horn piercing the quiet. It's a perfect follow-on to “We Are The People,” because as much as that song laments where we're at, this poem reminds us that we don't need to accept what's out there. Rather, we must rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas was talking about age, but coupled with this other song, the meaning starts to run deeper.
The last track on the album is “The Dawn.” This song is, to me, Pop's response to Dylan's poem. Reflecting on his own life, and the way “darkness is like a challenger to all my schemes,” he talks about how the “few moments that make life […] good” are thrown back in his face in accusation, and how the best thing to do is to smile back, to smile into the darkness and wait for the dawn again. It feels like the dawn, in this case, is his creative endeavors, his inspiration, coming back to energize him again.
This album isn't what you might expect from Iggy Pop. And that's not a bad thing. Long-time fans may throw it in and be confused – maybe even angry – when they listen through. But that will pass. When I first hit play, I didn't know what to think of it, or how I was going to review this album. As I've listened to it, though, it's gone from a shaking of the head to a deeper resonance, and I can honestly say there are tracks on here that strike deep chords, that resonate. I don't know if this album is for everyone, but I think everyone should give it a shot, and that shot may take a few play-throughs. Because there's so much going on here, it can't just be a one-and-done.
“Free” from Iggy Pop on Loma Vista Recordings will be available everywhere on September 6th.